Rear Left

Shards, part II

Posted in Media & Movements by rearleft on June 26, 2009

An Iranian friend has made it out of Iran with her body, spirits, and media intact. She left after a day of attempting to shoot in the face of escalating violence from police and militias, the same day that Neda Agha-Soltan was killed.

(excerpt from Dispatch #15)

…That night, we decided that it was time for me to leave.
I began preparing myself mentally and emotionally, and continued working on the encryption of my computer and hard drives.  I decided that in any case, I would leave with these items.  There is too much work for me to do now, what would be the point of being here, “safe” without all of that?

On Sunday, we got word that two more filmmakers that we know had been arrested, and that the secret service had told our documentary association that they would arrest each and every person who signed our petition, and would make them retract their signature- by any means they feel necessary- while filming them.  This is what they did to leftists at the beginning of the revolution.

On Sunday night, I left to the airport, prepared for anything.  Apparently, if you are on the list to be arrested, they take your passport away, and ask you to report the next day to intelligence servjices.  Having an American passport, I would maybe have the option of leaving regardless of a passport confiscation, left with the fact that there would be no return to Iran… I decided that this would be okay and that if I was stopped, I would leave the country anyhow.  My friend took me to the airport at 4 am, and I made it through with no problems.  I was lucky.  There is no telling what would happen if I stayed longer.

Upon arrival to the U.S., I was welcomed in the most aggressive way that I ever have been upon return from traveling- another version of authority.  Strangely, I was neither afraid nor worried about the repercussions of my answers.  (Maybe I secretly hope to be deported from this awful country too).  The immigration officer questioned me at the booth, and I would like to recount our dialogue here, to the best of my memory…

Officer: Do you go to Iran often?
B: As much as I can, but I had not been able to go for a year before now.
O: How long were you there?
B: One month.
O: What is your occupation?
B: I’m a filmmaker.
O: What company do you work for?
B: I’m independent.
O: Why do you go to Iran?
B: Because it is my birth country.  I have my family and friends there.  Should I not go?
O: Well, you know that it is a “country of interest”.
B: It interests me as well.  It’s my country.

He took the stamp and placed it on my passport a few times, hesitating, and finally not giving me the stamps.  He put it back to the side and then asked:

O: Have you ever been to places like Afghanistan or Pakistan?
B: No, I’m not Afghani, and I’m not from Pakistan.

After looking at me in a condescending and suspicious way.

O: What do you think of the U.S.?
B: Is that a valid question?
O: Yes, it is a valid question.  You know, normally we take you to a little room for this.
B: Yes, I know, I’ve already been there a few times.
O: Answer my question.
B: Should I put my bag down?
O: If you like.

I put my bags down on the floor.

B: I am a citizen of this country and have lived here since I was two years old, but I don’t agree with the foreign policy; I don’t know if Obama will make a difference, but I think the wars should stop.  I also don’t agree with policy in Iran either, but I will continue going there. Have you seen what is happening there right now?
O: Yes, I know what is going on.
B: Well it breaks my heart to see people treated the way they are and killed for no reason.

And that’s when my eyes filled with tears, out of sorrow for having left my friends there, but also out of rage for this asshole sitting in the booth with his stamp.  When he saw my tears he dropped his head and immediately stamped my passport, which made me even more furious.  He handed it back to me and I couldn’t keep quiet.

B: So all you wanted was for me to cry, so that you could feel that you can trust me?  You know, they question people in the same way in Iran.  This is why I have a problem with government.  You are all the same.

“Welcome to the U.S.A.”


Sloppy Searching

Posted in Personal/Meta, The Law is an Ass by rearleft on May 10, 2009

I try not to be an alarmist, but you’d be paranoid too if you knew they were watching you.

Last week, my partner, baby daughter, and I got on a plane at Los Angeles International Airport bound for Sydney, Australia. I’ve spent most of the past decade in the US, and we plan on residing in Australia for the next couple of years. Between her stuff, my stuff, and the baby’s stuff we had a large amount of baggage that we were happy to pay the excess fees on because it was faster and cheaper to carry it with us than to pay for shipping. The biggest and heaviest thing on our two trolleys was a G5 tower in a Pelican case. After a fair amount of back and forth with the airline staff over whether or not they’d carry a case so heavy, I was very relieved to see it come around the baggage claim carousel in Sydney with all our other stuff.

Fast forward a week to this morning. I’d finally gotten together all the peripherals needed to get the computer up and running (monitor, keyboard, mouse, power adaptor). A friend had warned me to pull the hard drives out before the flight, and to carry them with me, because there was a small chance that they could jiggle around in transit and get damaged. In my rush to deal with everything on my way out of the US, I’d neglected to do that, so my heart sank when I powered up and saw the dreaded system folder question mark on startup.


(NB: not exactly like above, but it’s the best .gif i could find)

Trying not to panic, I tried starting up from the system install disk, but that looked like it wanted to install the operating system and I was afraid it would format the drives. Then tried starting up with the Applecare Tech Tool Deluxe disk, but that didn’t really do anything. Starting to assume the worst by this stage: jiggling damage might have occurred, or maybe some sort of demagnetization wiped the drives.

The tower has two drives in it: the factory installed startup drive and a 500GB internal drive that I put in to keep media on. Clutching at straws, I thought I’d try opening the tower up, pull out the media drive and seewhat happened. When I did this I noticed that the lever that holds the media drive in its bay was open. That was a pretty good tip off that some sort of search had been done on the computer that involved pulling the drives out. My suspicion was confirmed when I found that the reason the computer couldn’t find the system folder was that the startup drive had apparently not been plugged back in after the drives were pulled out!

The computer was on the same flight as us, and there was only about an hour between when I dropped the bags off at security and when we took off, so my assumption is that US border agents yanked the drives, copied them for a later search, and then very sloppily replaced them. Now, I don’t really have anything to be concerned about them finding on there, but it’s very disconcerting to think that they now have a copy of every email I’ve sent in the past few years, my address books, calendars, web histories, etc.

Last year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a previous ruling on searches of laptops and other electronic devices at the US borders. That case involved a guy accused of bringing child pornography, but its effect is that searches are permissible on anyone’s devices with no requirement of suspicion of wrongdoing. I’d really like to know what they did with my data. I can only imagine some federal agent is poring over my emails and trying out search terms in the hope of nabbing a superterrorist mastermind.

I’ve always resisted the temptation to do a FOIA request, but I guess it might be time to try and get a grip on what their files on me look like now that they have all of mine.