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This is one of those libertarian "25 laws you break in the process of squeezing your own orange juice in the morning" principles that is fun to argue about but not very useful in the real world.

The reality is that while personality flaws and broken power dynamics may (but almost certainly won't) cause border police to charge you with some crime if you misstate "business or pleasure", absent any demonstrable intent of comitting a crime, you're unlikely to see the inside of a courtroom on such a charge, let alone be convicted. For instance, in the original post: saying you were in Antwerp for pleasure isn't going to get you a "Bureau of Prisons Number" without the satchel of smuggled diamonds.

I don't want to be misconstrued here; I'm glad we have crazy douchebags like this guy to stand up for our rights to refuse to answer questions, especially dragnet-style questions explicitly intended to trip criminals (and whatever collateral innocents come with them) up at the border.

But having said that, there's an element of the social contract at play here. The exact same logic this guy is using suggests that he also shouldn't answer the questions of police investigating crimes in his neighborhood. "Have you seen this man? We think he just shot up your neighbor's car."

Our society doesn't work if the police get absolute authority over us, and our protections against authoritarianism will degrade if people like this guy don't occasionally stand up for them. But society also won't work if everyone routinely refuses to cooperate with the police, who are dependent on our support to get the important stuff in their charter done.

I highly recommend "Cop in the Hood", a sociologist's writeup of a year spent as a Baltimore East Side patrol cop, for insight into all the crazy dynamics at play here.




> But having said that, there's an element of the social contract at play here. The exact same logic this guy is using suggests that he also shouldn't answer the questions of police investigating crimes in his neighborhood. "Have you seen this man? We think he just shot up your neighbor's car."

I believe this is different. In this case, true, you have no legal obligation to answer a cop's questions when he is investigating a crime. But I do think you may possibly have a moral obligation and answering his questions is part of your civic duty.

However, I don't really see any such obligation here when they are treating you as the suspect. There is no concrete reason for them to suspect you in the first place, other than their blind, blanket suspicion of everyone.


I agree. This guy is trying to apply an abstract principal to something that in reality doesn't really make any sense.

However, I don't think they have a blanket suspicion of everyone.

It's pretty clear to me that people like the border patrol, or anyone else who has a similar job of trying to find that needle in the haystack, the one person they should rightfully be suspicious of, is looking for certain telltale signs: dark skin, non-affluent dress and/or nervous behavior.


Do you really think they have a blind suspicion of everyone? The vast majority will go through with minimal questioning, and these types of questions try to tease out suspicious behavior. I don't think it's a "you are guilty by default" type situation.

How would you rather the border patrol act? Keep in mind there are various types of illicit behavior that are not desired within society--this is a fairly inevasive method all things considered.


> Do you really think they have a blind suspicion of everyone?

They certainly act as though they are suspicious of everyone.


Isn't being suspicious of everyone the rational response? You see thousands of people per year and your entire job is to identify the few who are doing something wrong (smuggling, using a false passport, whatever).

If you're not going to be suspicious of everyone, which subset of them should you be suspicious of?


What do you mean by cooperating with the police? The guy abided by the law, which he was aware of and the border agents were not (or pretended not to be).

You must be of the opinion that laws are too lenient and that the additional bully tactics used by cops, etc., are actually in the interest of the general public b/c they help to correct for insufficiently strict laws.

If you don't believe this, then what is the nature of your argument that we should just comply with their wishes? Politeness? Tradition? Respect for authority? Humility?


I'm confused by this comment because I don't think the laws are too lenient, I don't believe in "bully tactics", and I do think that for society to work properly we do, for the most part, need to assist the people with charter with enforcing our laws.

I'm not repeating this in every comment because it feels tiresome, but, like I said, I'm glad this guy is out there pushing the frontiers of our civil liberties, but I still think he's a bit of a douche, and I still think his arguments don't make much sense: his fear of the consequences of answering "business or pleasure" seems irrational compared to the powers the border police already have to search his luggage, the files on his computer, and his body cavities without a warrant.

Incidentally, the principled stand this guy took for not answering questions seems a bit hollow when you consider that, semiotically speaking, he pretty much answered their question: "yes", he said, "I am very much worth your time to scrutinize further."


Principled or not, how is respectful, quiet dissent not completely appropriate.

Consider how comfortable a person is when speaking to a telemarketer compared to a police officer or border patrol officer.

That we must grovel before those in uniform is a clear sign that they have too much power.

Of course his behavior was irrational if he was someone trying to smuggle in contraband. But it was rational if he's someone who feels that his rights as a law abiding citizen have been compromised by the re-entry procedures and seeks to make a point.


I don't think you intended this, but this is a mix of strawman and slippery slope fallacies. It's not "the exact same logic." To begin with, in the OP's story he himself is the "suspect", and he knows he's innocent. There's no moral dilemma over whether to reply to the questions, only one of practical concerns versus abstract ideals.

I don't think the world was in danger of people taking the OP's argument to the witness situation you describe, and thus I don't need that caveat was necessary.


It's easy to see that being innocent doesn't eliminate any moral dilemma over answering questions. Most people are innocent! By answering questions, they're helping the police stop wasting time with them.

Be thankful that we have the right not to answer questions, and, yes, be thankful that crazy guys like this are out there demonstrating that right. But then remember the social contract and your obligations as a citizen; if the police are asking a reasonable question, you should answer.


Again, the OP is not talking about reasonable questions. Whether one is traveling for business or pleasure is not a reasonable thing for a customs cop to inquire a citizen upon entry into its own country. It is indeed none of their business.

I guess they only want to intimidate you and get you talking for a quick psychological profiling. And the OP responds like I wish everyone with nothing to hide did.

And that doesn't mean entrance lines would take forever. Police adapt their routines to the available time and resources.


> But having said that, there's an element of the social contract at play here. The exact same logic this guy is using suggests that he also shouldn't answer the questions of police investigating crimes in his neighborhood. "Have you seen this man? We think he just shot up your neighbor's car."

Quite importantly in this particular scenario, a police officer is not the same as a federal officer. Lying to a police officer is not a crime (at least usually, you may want to check your local statutes).


Completely agree with you regarding assisting police doing actual police work. It's the ones who are trolling and/or trying to trip people (guilty or innocent) into saying things that incriminate themselves because they are too ignorant of their rights to keep their mouths shut that I'm addressing here.

Can't really argue with anything else you said either - at the end of the day, I'm just hoping that we can fight a standing action on our rights to privacy, freedom from unjust search, etc... I see this guys response to these encroaching requests as a minor battle in a never-ending war. Ironically, I'm actually in favor of Full Body Emission Scans for people getting on airplanes, for the explicit search for explosives - so I might even be to the right of you on that topic.

And, as a fan of The Wire, I'll certainly track down "Cop in the Hood". Thanks.




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