New US Border Check Tool: Google

Via Boing Boing, LSD as Therapy? Write about It, Get Barred from US from The Tyee covers how Canadian psychotherapist Andrew Feldmar was denied entry into the United States after being pulled aside during a border crossing for a random check. One of those fancy explosive sniffing machines then get him stopped? Metal in his shoes? Failure to use the proper approved plastic bag for liquid items? No — the screening tool employed was Google:

The Blaine border guard explained that Feldmar had been pulled out of the line as part of a random search. He seemed friendly, even as he took away Feldmar’s passport and car keys. While the contents of his car were being searched, Feldmar and the officer talked. He asked Feldmar what profession he was in.

When Feldmar said he was psychologist, the official typed his name into his Internet search engine. Before long the customs guard was engrossed in an article Feldmar had published in the spring 2001 issue of the journal Janus Head. The article concerned an acid trip Feldmar had taken in London, Ontario, and another in London, England, almost forty years ago….

The official said that under the Homeland Security Act, Feldmar was being denied entry due to "narcotics" use.

OK, actually maybe it wasn’t Google. A search for his name brings up the article referenced on both Google and Ask, in the top results. The story’s author talks earlier about the border guard having "googled" Feldmar doesn’t doesn’t specifically say Google itself was used. But it’s a pretty safe bet it was Google.

Perhaps using Google during border checks isn’t a new technique, but this is the first time I’ve heard of it. It makes sense in some cases. Back in 2003, when a News Of The World reporter got a job at Buckingham Palace, there was much criticism that a Google search for his name (he used his real name) would have revealed his true employment.

Still, it’s kind of scary to think what you’ve discussed on the web — now accessible through search engines — could find you landing in legal hot water. In this case, though Feldmar wasn’t convicted of a crime. Just having admitted it was enough. From the story:

"Admitted drug use is admitted drug use," says Mike Milne, spokesman for U.S. border and protection, based in Seattle. Milne said he could not comment specifically on the Feldmar case, due to privacy issues, but he quoted from the U.S. Immigration Law Handbook section which refers to "general classes of aliens ineligible to receive visas and ineligible for admissions" to help shed light on the clauses that may have ensnared the Vancouver psychotherapist.

"Persons with AIDS, tuberculosis, infectious diseases are inadmissible," Milne said. And then there is Section IV. "Anyone who is determined to be a drug abuser or user is inadmissible. A crime involving moral turpitude is inadmissible and one of those areas is a violation of controlled substances."

If there’s no criminal record, as in Feldmar’s case?

Not necessarily the criterion, Milne said. You can still be considered dangerous.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Legal: Privacy | Search & Society: General


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Silver

    The more I think about it, the more ridiculous the border guards’ reaction is!

    Wasn’t LSD use actually legal 40 years ago in England and Canada? Wikipedia says it only started getting legislated against here in the US in the mid-60s.

    So, not only is it a 40-yr-old indiscretion, they’re apparently retroactively declaring it a criminal act…

    Is this sort of thing really supposed to make us all feel safer?

  • feedthebot

    Luckily with Google webmaster tools I can remove that “Blame Canada” article I wrote.

    “Milne said he could not comment specifically on the Feldmar case, due to privacy issues” – That’s cool Milne, we will just Google it to find out more.

    Great stuff Danny, highlighting this is important because even though I don’t anyone who wants to go to Canada, I have heard that such persons are out there, and they should not get screwed.

  • Lucky Lester

    Way to save Americans from incursions of radical hippy non conformity – God only knows what another bout of Free Love could do to us all!

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