«Group participation: what's wrong with this picture?
I ordered some video-editing software from Hitfilm in the UK which also comes with some instructional videos. So a few days later I get a call from FedEx saying that the DVDs were being held at U.S. Customs until I filled out a Video Declaration Form, which she said was now standard practice. Now, I'd never heard of this before, so I called... back to ensure that this was indeed FedEx and not someone phishing for information. Had them email me the form.
This is what the form said: "I/we declare the the films/videos contain no obscene or immoral matter, nor any matter advocating or urging treason or insurrection against the United States, nor any threat to take the life of or inflict bodily harm upon any person in the United States."
Now, the first clause I can kinda see, though "immoral" is weird and there's no standard definition of obscenity in the US, but let that go...what made my eyebrows go up my forehead and down the other side was clause two. So I called back the nice lady at FedEx -- who was only following instructions given to her by Customs -- and asked what this was all about.
Apparently -- and this is only her understanding of the situation -- this is a new thing being done by Customs and Homeland Security with FedEx, UPS, and other carriers to make sure that films and videos with ideas or stories that were at odds with the United States Government didn't get into the country, as it was a form of terrorism (as further elaborated upon in the third and final clause.) She added that some DVDs showing Occupy events in London and elsewhere had gotten bounced because of the concern that these were being used to coordinate activities here (as if with the internet people actually need physical DVDs for that sort of thing but that's neither here nor there).
Under this new stipulation, if V for Vendetta had, for instance, been produced in the UK (instead of just filmed there), importing it into the US would be considered subject matter "advocating or urging treason or insurrection." And if you lied about it on the form, you could be held liable for this.
So there are now very literally guardians at the gate ensuring that the wrong sorts of ideas, movies or DVDs are not allowed into the country without investigation and/or prosecution. And most pernicious of all, they don't actually define what they mean by advocating treason or insurrection, any more than they define what "immoral" means, it's whatever they decide it means, so you could be breaking the law without knowing you're doing it, until they decide you're doing it.
And I imagine if someone produces such content INSIDE of the U.S. then they'll somehow disappear / be put in jail / have their content blocked / removed / be forced to shutdown?
The good news is that this only affects physical media. Posting a video on YouTube has the same effect as shipping DVDs across the border, but is out of Customs' reach.
For now, sort of. After all, it's ICE that is seizing domain names. How long before any time your traffic crosses a border, a customs notice is displayed enumerating all the freedoms you are being denied?
That will never happen. It's more likely there will be a list of how you are being protected from the bogeyman du jour.
There's a lot of spin on what the law actually is. Some of it by people mis-interpreting guidelines issued by bureaucrats who were themselves exaggerating a bit.
Treason is an offense in the US, dictated by the constitution. Advocacy of treason is also an offense. The entire point of passing through customs is that goods that are legal elsewhere, but illegal in the US, are blocked. While it's perfectly OK to make videos about the destruction of the US if you're in Saudi Arabia, it is NOT ok to do that in the US. So it gets blocked at customs.
To prosecute (after Yates) you'd need some additional evidence that an individual's advocacy wasn't merely abstract, general advocacy of revolution, but concrete and imminent enough to present a "clear and present danger", e.g. because of specific steps being taken to actually overthrow the government in the near future.
Similarly, a state actually seceding from the U.S. remains illegal, but someone merely abstractly advocating that a state ought to secede, as the Texas governor half-seriously did, and many "Sons of the Confederacy" type groups more earnestly do, is legal and not considered punishable as treason, assuming that the groups aren't actively planning raids of federal forts or something.
And this should be right at the top of the post.
This sort of policy has been around for a long time, take a look at the Post Office Act which incorporated the United States Post Office Department into the United States Cabinet. §148 made it illegal to send any obscene or disloyal materials through the mail.
Text from the form matches that in the post.
But importantly, note the date on the form:
 See http://uscode.house.gov/download/XHTML/uscprelim/PRELIMusc18... §552. Officers aiding importation of obscene or treasonous books and articles
tl;dr: it's illegal to advise terrorist groups how to peacefully advocate for human rights, because that might make them more legitimate
Title 19: Customs Duties
PART 12—SPECIAL CLASSES OF MERCHANDISE
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§ 12.40 Seizure; disposition of seized articles; reports to United States attorney.
(a) Any book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, or drawing containing any matter advocating or urging treason or insurrection against the United States or forcible resistance to any law of the United States, or containing any threat to take the life of or inflict bodily harm upon any person in the United States, seized under section 305, Tariff Act of 1930, shall be transmitted to the United States attorney for his consideration and action.
(b) Upon the seizure of articles or matter prohibited entry by section 305, Tariff Act of 1930 (with the exception of the matter described in paragraph (a) of this section), a notice of the seizure of such articles or matter shall be sent to the consignee or addressee.
(c) When articles of the class covered by paragraph (b) of this section are of small value and no criminal intent is apparent, a blank assent to forfeiture, Customs Form 4607, shall be sent with the notice of seizure. Upon receipt of the assent to forfeiture duly executed, the articles shall be destroyed if not needed for official use and the case closed.
(d) In the case of a repeated offender or when the facts indicate that the importation was made deliberately with intent to evade the law, the facts and evidence shall be submitted to the United States attorney for consideration of prosecution of the offender as well as an action in rem under section 305 for condemnation of the articles.
(e) All cases in which articles have been seized pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 1305(a) should be referred to the U.S. Attorney, for possible institution of condemnation proceedings, within 4 days, but in no event more than 14 days, after the date of Customs initial examination. The referral to the U.S. Attorney should be initiated simultaneously with the mailing to the importer of the seizure notice and the assent to forfeiture form. If the importer declines to execute an assent to forfeiture of the articles other than those mentioned in paragraph (a) of this section and fails to submit, within 30 days after being notified of his privilege to do so, a petition under section 618, Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. 1618), for remission of the forfeiture and permission to export the seized articles, then the U.S. Attorney, who has already received information concerning the seizure pursuant to this paragraph, may proceed with the condemnation action.
(f) If seizure is made of books or other articles which do not contain obscene matter but contain information or advertisements relative to means of causing unlawful abortion, the procedure outlined in paragraphs (b), (c), (d), and (e) of this section shall be followed.
(g) In any case when a book is seized as being obscene and the importer declines to execute an assent to forfeiture on the ground that the book is a classic, or of recognized and established literary or scientific merit, a petition addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury with evidence to support the claim may be filed by the importer for release of the book. Mere unsupported statements or allegations will not be considered. If the ruling is favorable, release of such book shall be made only to the ultimate consignee.
(h) Whenever it clearly appears from information, instructions, advertisements enclosed with or appearing on any drug or medicine or its immediate or other container, or otherwise that such drug or medicine is intended for inducing unlawful abortion, such drug or medicine shall be detained or seized.
[28 FR 14710, Dec. 31, 1963, as amended by T.D. 71–165, 36 FR 12209, June 29, 1971; T.D. 76–261, 41 FR 39022, Sept. 14, 1976; T.D. 82–145, 47 FR 35477, Aug. 16, 1982; T.D. 85–186, 50 FR 47207, Nov. 15, 1985; T.D. 93–66, 58 FR 44130, Aug. 19, 1993]
§ 12.41 Prohibited films.
(a) Importers of films, shall certify on Customs Form 3291 that the imported films contain no obscene or immoral matter, nor any matter advocating or urging treason or insurrection against the United States or forcible resistance to any law of the United States, nor any threat to take the life or inflict bodily harm upon any person in the United States. When imported films are claimed to be free of duty as American goods returned, this certification may be made on Customs Form 3311 in the space designated “Remarks” in lieu of on Form 3291.
(b) Films exposed abroad by a foreign concern or individual shall be previewed by a qualified employee of the Customs Service before release. In case such films are imported as undeveloped negatives exposed abroad, the approximate number of feet shall be ascertained by weighing before they are allowed to be developed and printed and such film shall be previewed by a qualified employee of the Customs Service after having been developed and printed.
(c) Any objectionable film shall be detained pending instructions from Headquarters, U.S. Customs Service or a decision of the court as to its final disposition.
§552. Officers aiding importation of obscene or treasonous books and articles Whoever, being an officer, agent, or employee of the United States, knowingly aids or abets any person engaged in any violation of any of the provisions of law prohibiting importing, advertising, dealing in, exhibiting, or sending or receiving by mail obscene or indecent publications or representations, or books, pamphlets, papers, writings, advertisements, circulars, prints, pictures, or drawings containing any matter advocating or urging treason or insurrection against the United States or forcible resistance to any law of the United States, or containing any threat to take the life of or inflict bodily harm upon any person in the United States, or means for procuring abortion, or other articles of indecent or immoral use or tendency, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. (June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 718; Pub. L. 91–662, §2, Jan. 8, 1971, 84 Stat. 1973; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, §330016(1)(K), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2147.)
Historical and Revision Notes
Based on section 1305(b) of title 19, U.S.C., 1940 ed., Customs Duties (June 17, 1930, ch. 497, title III, §305(b), 46 Stat. 688).
In view of definition of misdemeanor in section 1 of this title words “shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and” were omitted.
Words “at hard labor” after “imprisonment” were omitted. (See reviser's note under section 1 of this title.)
Changes were made in phraseology.
1994—Pub. L. 103–322 substituted “fined under this title” for “fined not more than $5,000”.
1971—Pub. L. 91–662 struck out “preventing conception or” before “procuring abortion”.
19 USC §1305 (a) Prohibition of importation
All persons are prohibited from importing into the United States from any foreign country any book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, or drawing containing any matter advocating or urging treason or insurrection against the United States, or forcible resistance to any law of the United States, or containing any threat to take the life of or inflict bodily harm upon any person in the United States, or any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing, or other representation, figure, or image on or of paper or other material, or any cast, instrument, or other article which is obscene or immoral, or any drug or medicine or any article whatever for causing unlawful abortion, or any lottery ticket, or any printed paper that may be used as a lottery ticket, or any advertisement of any lottery. No such articles whether imported separately or contained in packages with other goods entitled to entry, shall be admitted to entry; and all such articles and, unless it appears to the satisfaction of the appropriate customs officer that the obscene or other prohibited articles contained in the package were inclosed therein without the knowledge or consent of the importer, owner, agent, or consignee, the entire contents of the package in which such articles are contained, shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture as hereinafter provided: Provided, That the drugs hereinbefore mentioned, when imported in bulk and not put up for any of the purposes hereinbefore specified, are excepted from the operation of this subdivision: Provided further, That the Secretary of the Treasury may, in his discretion, admit the so-called classics or books of recognized and established literary or scientific merit, but may, in his discretion, admit such classics or books only when imported for noncommercial purposes: Provided further, That effective January 1, 1993, this section shall not apply to any lottery ticket, printed paper that may be used as a lottery ticket, or advertisement of any lottery, that is printed in Canada for use in connection with a lottery conducted in the United States.
"What to Submit...Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity."
Also from the guidelines...
Please don't submit comments complaining that a submission is inappropriate for the site.
How do you think this gratifies anyone's intellectual curiosity? This is not an intellectual topic. It stirs up feelings of political outrage, sure — but those are actually harmful to the status quo we try to maintain here. I'm not saying don't talk about it — I'm just saying that there are better forums.
And I would not have complained except that there has recently been a large influx of users to the site and it seems to mostly be these people, in the double-digit and low-three-digit membership times, who are upvoting this. So do you have a better suggestion that doesn't boil down to "Just sit down and let the lowest common denominator float to the top"? Because I'm sorry, but I would rather Hacker News not become yet another repository of cat pictures.
Talking about new HN users submitting or upvoting non-interesting stories, I think it would be easy to count votes of new users like me (with less than four-digits of karma or membership days) as half or quarter votes.
This is exactly the type of story that isn't covered in TV news. If it weren't for HN I would have completely missed this story.
And yes the restricting of information is most definitely on the topic of intellectual interest.
How do you know this?