Who loses when foreign aid is slashed

Among the details of the 2018 budget proposal presented this week by the Trump administration were plans to slash nearly 30% of the combined State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget, with most of the cuts going to foreign aid and assistance.

Climate change work, unsurprisingly, was targeted for elimination or heavy cuts, but other programs included wide-ranging issues and departments such as the Bureau for Food Security, numerous global health programs, the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, and general development assistance.  

There are many justifiable criticisms of international aid and the bureaucracy of institutions and most people would admit these agencies could be made more efficient. But foreign aid can also clearly save lives and improve living conditions, and many economists have pointed out what a tiny percent it constitutes of the U.S.’s overall federal budget (1.3 percent) and how, despite being the world’s biggest donor, how little we pay relative to GDP in comparison to the world’s other rich countries (.17 percent compared to .7 percent by the UK for example).  The Council on Foreign Relations has a good run down of these issues here.

There are so many other numerous pressing issues commanding our attention these days in terms of petitions to sign, marches to attend, and collective action to be planned. Restoring the Bureau for Food Security may not be the easiest cause to galvanize such acts.  So I’ll make it very simple, here are some places you can support with your wallet to attempt to cover some of the gaps should these cuts be made:

 

Global Health

Miraculously, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has avoided the chopping block. But numerous other programs in multiple countries will likely be effected. Besides the major intergovernmental and multilateral agencies,  Doctors Without Borders is a perennial favorite. But here are aggregations of other possible groups at the global ( here, here, here, here,) regional and local  here, here,  here, here, here and  here ) levels.

Food Security

The major intergovernmental and multilateral agencies play a big role here but other global and local groups also significantly contribute. See aggregations here, here, here and  here.

Women’s issues

The broad category of women’s issues of course can intersect with global health, development, civil liberties and numerous other issues. But here are some places to start:

Global groups  here , here and here. And an overview of a selection of regional groups herehere,  here and here .

 

This provides only the tip of the iceberg of groups working on these issues and, by virtue of necessity, skews heavily towards bigger organizations with a more global scope. Ideally, we would choose the issues that most matter to us and research local groups whose crucial and informed work provides the most sustained commitment.

 

Fighting Corruption: An Active Pursuit

On Monday, the U.S. State Department posted a story about Donald Trump’s private club, Mar-a-lago. The State Department deleted the post but not before it was tweeted by various U.S. Embassies. The Guardian referred to the post as a blatant “plea for corruption.” This most recent event is one in a series of incidents that have raised serious questions about conflicts of interest and other ethical violations on the part of the Trump Administration. Since taking office on January 20, 2017, the Trump Administration has faced criticism for a wide variety of potentially corrupt practices involving US corporations, foreign states, transnational and foreign corporations, and nepotism.

Concerns about corruption are not limited to one party or administration, and reports of political corruption crony capitalism have emerged outside of the administration. These include sitting congressman, Chris Collins, who invested $2.2 million dollars in the IPO of Innate, an Australian pharmaceutical company, and exploited a loophole in disclosure laws that do not require the reporting of foreign stock acquisitions.

Public anger toward government corruption is driving voter sentiment not only in the United States but globally. Protests have occurred in Europe (particularly eastern European countries like Romania), Russia, and almost every country in South America. Following massive protests, South Korea impeached its sitting president on corruption charges.

Corruption can take many forms and directly affects the ability of citizens to influence their political systems. It widens economic disparities and increases political instability by undermining the rule of law. The website, corrupt.af, is currently tracking 276 reports of suspected corruption linked to the Trump administration. The sheer number of instances of corruption can seem overwhelming and intractable, but citizens have the ability to advocate for change.

The most important step to take is to vote! Register to vote and show up to vote in local, state, and national elections.

Donating to organizations provides financial support for anti-corruption efforts. Organizations such as Common Cause seek to expose political corruption and address issues like political gerrymandering. Represent.us seeks to curb corruption at the city, state, and federal levels through the American Anti-Corruption Act.

The ethics watchdog group, Common Cause, filed an ethics complaint on behalf of the public about the Mar-a-lago post, but individual citizens also have the power to advocate for change as well. One simple but effective approach is to put your representatives on speed dial by downloading the 5 Calls app. Enter your mailing address, and the app will look up your Senators and Congressperson. 5 Calls tracks major legislative issues and makes calling your elected officials quick and easy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elected officials take calls from constituents seriously. Your call will be tallied and is more effective than sending email. Leaving a voice message is also effective and will be tallied! Download the Countable app and set it to notify you when your representatives vote. This will provide feedback on how your representatives are voting on the issues you care about.

If you have more time, consider making local relationships and connections through IndivisibleIndivisible is a grassroots movement that sprung up in the wake of the 2016 presidential election with the objective of “defeating the Trump agenda.” Look up groups in your area (each congressional district now has at least two) and make contact. These groups are fluid and welcome the contribution from community members, so make contact and get involved. Overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and combatting corruption are key issues. If you have even more time to give, consider running for office yourself. Run for something recruits millennials to run for office on a progressive platform, and Emily’s List recruits and mentors pro-choice Democratic women.

Volunteering time or specialized skills to anti-corruption efforts through the organizations listed in this article may be of interest to some readers. Emerging possibilities for citizen participation include efforts to crowdsource fact checking.  More than 1000 volunteers participated in fact checking donor information for Donald Trump’s inauguration, which led to the uncovering of numerous errors. I spent about twenty minutes looking up information on the spreadsheet and really enjoyed participating. The non-profit organization Propublica recently shared access to financial disclosures of Whitehouse staffers with the public. These distributed efforts are in their infancy but show promise and are worth keeping an eye out for in the future.

 

How to give it all away: Steps toward smarter giving

Have you wanted to have more impact after the election of President Trump in the fall? Have you considered donating to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood?

I get you. I have also looked for ways to contribute what I can. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood support causes that I care for. They are credible organizations. But a new article on Vox.com, “Rich charities keep getting richer. That means your money isn’t doing as much good as it could,” reminded me to get perspective.

The Vox.com article summarizes why the big charities keep receiving donations at the expense of smaller, possibly more effective charities, challenges for nonprofit startups, and elements of the ‘effective philanthropy’ movement. Yet, it left me wondering what I can actually do. 

What action can I take to make my money count? How can I learn more about making my dollars go farther toward making the world better?

I have wrestled with these questions and want to share with you a few steps of varying time commitments that can help you learn about how to make your money count.

First, GiveWell—”a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities“ [1]—is a useful resource, even if you choose not to listen their advice. GiveWell was started in 2007 by two guys in the finance industry struggling to identify the best giving opportunities. Take two minutes and read their Giving 101. Then take another few minutes to explore their website and learn how they research and evaluate charities.

Second, Effective Altruism has a ten-minute written introduction to concepts for doing good better and how to direct our efforts. You don’t need to agree with what the intro suggests. You will still find value in these perspectives and in being mindful of what impact you want to have.

Lastly, if you prefer videos to text, check out Esther Duflo’s 17-minute TED talk on social experiments to fight poverty. Duflo is the founder and director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a research network that evaluates social programs, and a Professor in Economics at MIT. If the TED talk interests you, you’ll enjoy the award-winning [2] book Poor Economics coauthored by Duflo.

Money can do so much good if given to the right organizations. You can make a tangible, measurable difference with your money. The first step is to learn about how your money can do most good.

References:
[1] http://www.givewell.org/about
[2] The book Poor Economics won the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award as well as the Financial Times Business Book of the Year.

Eating disorders insurance coverage – and actually getting part of your expenses paid for

According to national surveys, approximately 30 million people will experience an eating disorder throughout their life. These illnesses are life threatening (and even the third cause of death for women in America) and involve mental and physical aspects that both have to be equally seriously treated. The earlier the diagnosis, the more chances of recovery a patient has. In any case, these illnesses cannot go untreated: they necessitate important medical attention, and in a lot of cases this involves full time hospitalization, also known as inpatient care. If he or she can pay.

The American Psychiatric Association distinguishes between five levels of care when it comes to treating eating disorders. First are three levels of outpatient care going from appointments with a psychiatrist to a partial hospitalisation, also known as full day outpatient care. On a fourth level is residential treatment and on a fifth inpatient treatment, which involves the patient being locked up in a specialized treatment center.These levels are gradual and they are meant to respond in the best way possible to the specificities of each patient’s case. At least on paper.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has extensive documentation explaining how a general care provider usually decides on which level of care would best fit a patient and accurately respond to its medical needs. The text provided by the association reads, as one of its first points:

« The intensity and duration of the treatment depends on:

  • Insurance coverage limits and ability to pay for treatment »

In reality, money often comes before a patient’s medical needs. Obtaining coverage for eating disorder treatments is paved with obstacles and mentally exhausting for the families of patients who already have to go through their loved one’s illness (when patients are lucky enough to have people caring about them, and families willing to take the time to help). Getting an insurance provider to reimburse these types of medical expenses often involves having to make appeals and calling the insurer multiple times, being « persistent, assertive and rational ». It also involves getting as much information on the plan as possible, even if this usually involves reading the full description of the plan and « this document may be longer than a hundred pages », states once again the NEDA. What about those who do not have the legal literacy to understand what is at stake in those documents? Those who do not have parents or family to take care of the paperwork for them? The NEDA also stresses the usefulness of hiring an attorney to help with the case. What about those who cannot afford legal representation, as they are additionally most likely to be the ones who cannot afford care in the first place?

All in all, in the United States, getting access to a decent and appropriate treatment and partial coverage for the expenses attached to it appears almost as complicated as getting a PhD.

Insurers do not cover eating disorder expenses the same way. On paper, the situation is better than it what it used to be prior to December 2016, date at which a new law concerning the obligation for insurance providers to cover equally for physical and mental expenses passed. However, in reality, getting an insurer to reimburse these expenses is still very complicated, and no insurance plan will cover them entirely. Most plans propose to cover 12 psychiatric visits per semester. In many cases, these are of course not sufficient. Inpatient care costs on average 30 000$ a month, and many parents have so far had to find ways to pay for this through other means, among which the dilapidation of their retirement savings.

Primary care providers are the ones deciding over what is the most adapted treatment, considering their patient’s condition and financial resources. A treatment center is chosen according to the insurer’s affiliations with those types of structures. The care provider also discusses with the insurer, and even if the insurer does agree to pay part of the expenses, demands for extensions have to be made on a regular basis. Most of the time, insurance providers agree on covering several days of treatment, when inpatient treatments often requires the stay to be a few months before they start being effective. Moreover, the insurer can deny further care if it notices a « lack of progress in treatment », which manifests itself either by the patient « not restoring weight », « no reduction in behaviors », or a« lack of motivation in treatment ». However, eating disorders are also mental issues, and the patient is not always willing to get better  in the first place as he is mentally caught in a vicious circle. It is often the families who have to take action, and take their love one to see a care provider or a psychiatrist.

In anyway, being met by a refusal of even partial coverage for those medical expenses is stressful, and puts an additional burden on already worried families. Here are three ways to try to unlock your situation, and one way in which the system could be amended – but this last element requires an increase in awareness, and would need people to bring the issue in the spotlight for actors to take on the issue.

NEDA: A first step towards getting your insurer to cover for part of your expenses

Denial of coverage or refusal to provide further care can of course, be appealed. As odd as it may sound, these denials are actually to be expected. Families and patients should not feel desperate by these steps that are most of the time mandatory obstacles before getting partial financial coverage. NEDA provides extensive documentation, available to families for free. This documentation is highly valuable, and needs to be checked if needing guidance on how to make an appeal . NEDA proposes models of letters (p.53) that can be sent to insurers, and phone call scripts worth consulting (p.60).

NEDA also offers a helpline (1-800-931-2237). However, this helpline is not meant to provide help on extensive case to case solutions. If requesting a lawyer to manage your case is too expensive, you should consider taking the next step: contacting your representative in Congress.

Your representative: don’t be afraid to take the step – especially if you are covered by Medicare

Contacting a US representative is most efficient if your medical coverage is Medicare / Medicaid, as these are federal agencies. Your congressman might not have as much leverage if your health care plan is private.

You can find your own representative here, and should try to give a phone call to its cabinet in order to clearly expose your problem. You should not try to contact more than one of your representatives at the time, as this will not make your request process faster. Stressing the urgency of your request might be worth a try, but remember that in most cases you will have to be patient. However, cabinet members are hired to serve the representatives’ constituants, and these are issues they are here tackle. It can just take time.

The grant option

If you are unable to pay for the very out of the pocket cost of the coverage, which can rise up to 6000$ depending on your health plan, (such as for Blue cross Blue Shield), one solution might be to request a grant. Non profit associations, most of the times funded by family members of deceased patients, do propose such awards on return of application. Here is one you can contact to ask for financial help. You will have to return an application form, that can be downloaded here.

Moving forward

In a perfect world there would, of course, be universal and full healthcare coverage (if in search of an example, most european countries do so and it works -and Scandinavian countries are particularly good at this.) However, this is highly unlikely to happen in a near / far future.

What could be done, then? Private foundations should step in, and consider providing fundings to create structures that could provide eating disorder treatment for free. For the most part, these illnesses target young people, who have a future and a role to play in our society. Funding such structures is giving them a chance to recover and fully take advantage of what lies ahead. Private organisations in foreign countries already do fund such treatment centers. In France, the Maison de Solenn is funded by Jacques and Bernadette Chirac via the Fondation des Hôpitaux de Paris, and provides inpatient and outpatient care to anorexic girls. Why not transpose this model to the United States? Demand for such structures is high, and there is a lot of work lying ahead to change how eating disorders are taken into account in the united states, and who gets access to treatment.

Unemployment in Serbia

Article note

After doing the article we realized that the topic might not be the best example for this exercise since bringing up solutions for unemployment is not very controversial. However, it is a topic that (unfortunately) is needed to be discussed in Serbia and that requires them to take actions individually.

The overall proposal for “solution journalism” is that in the future there would be a parallel set of articles linked to traditional issue reporting articles. Thus, there would be journalists that focus on bringing together different possible options (or the awareness of the lack there off) and experts debates on pros and cons of the solutions and their possible long term outcomes.
Maddie, Sruthi, Dijana

 

Unemployment in Serbia action Unemployment in Serbia

Unemployment in Serbia action

#AllHairMatters or Nah?

When Sundial, the company behind Shea Moisture brand, released the latest in its #EverybodyGetsLove campaign, the black-owned beauty company made it clear that their new target audience is white.

There was one token black girl – a mixed woman – with long, curly hair. Her and two white women talked about “hair hate.”

How can a black beauty line tangle through the issues of hair hate without talking to black women about the impact European beauty standards have had on them? Black hair has long been treated by societal bias at large as unkempt, dirty and undesirable. Ciara and Alicia Keys wear braids and it’s called urban. Kylie and Kendall do it and it’s claimed the new, chic trend. I think it’s what drives the psychic impulse that has black women spending 80% more on beauty products than other women. Despite that buying power, beauty aisles have very limited haircare selections for black hair.

White women have options on options. So its surprising Sundial felt the need to expand their line. They didn’t put nearly this much effort into launching their Madam C.J. Walker collection last year. Then again, capitalism is capitalism and businesses are meant to grow. But if you built your brand on the scalps of black women, you don’t have to erase them to include white women. You don’t have to find the fairest, most racially ambiguous black girl to tokenize alongside them. Cater to us all, rather than participate in the long practice of erasing black women.

Not different from the Pepsi debacle, a hashtag protest led to immediate shutdown of the ad and a quick apology.

Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be –…

SheaMoisture 发布于 2017年4月24日

But if we have the power to shut down ads, shouldn’t we ask for more? It’s not enough to withdraw your money from one capitalist venture and switch to another or quiet down once the ad comes down.

Are we happy to support a black-owned company whose idea of inclusivity isn’t to do the smart thing and simply include white women, but instead it does the American thing and shoves black women aside? When black-owned companies make millions thanks to the support of black buyers, should we not expect them to buy black as well? Had Sundial used a black ad agency, this would have never happened.

And like I said, capitalists are going to be capitalists. But if you have the power to pull ads, why not demand community support. Sundial could be donating money or product to black shelters much like Pepsi should have donated money to #BlackLivesMatter instead of apologizing to Kendall Jenner for paying her a million to insult a civil rights movement. We can’t just smooth this over with a few tweets. We have to comb through the issues.

Putting a stop to the death penalty

Eight prisoners were scheduled to be put to death this week in Arkansas, in what would have amounted to the largest mass execution in America in half a century. Of these eight, at the time of writing, three have already been killed, four have been given temporary stays beyond the end of the month, and one further execution is scheduled to go ahead Thursday night.

Why the rush? Arkansas’s primary method of execution, like the other 30 states which have capital punishment on their statute books, is the three-drug lethal injection protocol. Securing these drugs has proved increasingly difficult in recent years, due to shortages caused by political and regulatory pressure making pharmaceutical companies reluctant to provide the drugs for the purposes of capital punishment.

Arkansan governor Asa Hutchinson sprung into action this month, scheduling the eight executions mere days before the expiry date on the state’s only available sedative, midazolam, elapses at the end of April. The third execution, of convicted murderer Marcel Williams, only took place after a last-minute legal scramble to halt it failed on Monday evening. The reason? That evening’s first scheduled execution, of Jack Jones, may have been botched, after correctional facility officers tried and failed to insert an IV line into the obese prisoner’s neck.

This most recent episode only serves to underline the increasingly farcical nature of capital punishment in the US. Lawyers for Williams argued that his execution might be unconstitutional on the grounds of “cruel and unusual punishment” – but it is increasingly obvious that the whole system of capital punishment has elements of unusual cruelty. Jones’s execution reportedly saw him moving his lips and gulping for air after the sedative was applied, amounting to what Williams’ lawyers claimed was “torturous and inhumane.”

What action can you take against this inhumane system of state-sponsored murder? Several organizations are fighting to abolish the death penalty across the nation. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty works to mobilize the 90 million Americans who say the death penalty is wrong. You can add your name to the growing movement by taking the coalition’s pledge. The group also offers resources for contacting your elected officials, and engage with community organizations like faith groups.

Amnesty International is also working to put an end to the death penalty around the world. One current campaign seeks to halt the return of the death penalty in the Philippines, an issue currently in front of the country’s Senate. The International Commission Against the Death Penalty is similarly working to put an end to the practice around the world, and provides useful resources on its website, albeit with fewer calls to direct action.

Yet as with so many other issues, from climate change to nuclear non-proliferation, preventing the death penalty around the world – and especially in China, which with over 1,000 executions a year may account for half the global total – would be much easier were it prohibited in the US.

Change starts at home – and if you live in one of the thirty one with capital punishment on the statute, consider contacting your local representative. No politician wants to be seen as “weak on crime”, and murderers and rapists are one of the more problematic constituencies to advocate for. But this is all the more reason why demonstrating your support for prohibition is important. Almost 3,000 people languish on death row in the United States, and fully 158 death row inmates have been exonerated since capital punishment was reintroduced in 1973. Ultimately, it comes down to this: only by putting an end to capital punishment can you be sure that no person will ever be put to death for a crime they didn’t commit.

Facebook’s F8: It’s not just for software developers

by Arthur and Drew

Click here to read article with annotations

You’re a small business owner, looking to stay ahead of the curve in everything you do. Say, for example, you run a local electrical service, where you employ 50 technicians, and you send them to customers’ homes when something isn’t working and they call in. As the owner of this business (like countless other small businesses), you’re likely using Facebook to advertise, but you’re probably not very tech savvy yourself or have the time to keep up with all the technology enhancements. Evolutions can be really tough.

But … you know it’s important. Competition is relentless, and your users are on Facebook, so staying up to date on advertising practices is important to you.

Last week, Facebook held their annual conference called F8, and though this event is meant to be for software developers, it’s important for business owners who rely on Facebook to understand the announcements at this event and think proactively about how they can act to take advantage of these platform upgrades for their businesses.

Below, we break down the three most important Facebook platform upgrades that concern advertising and businesses, and share some ideas for how small businesses can leverage these new tools to further their sales.

To get a basic understanding of the announcements below, you should watch either the entire keynote speech or this shortened summary.

Facebook Augmented Reality (AR)

Frame Studio and AR Studio

You know those cool filters on Snapchat that give you dog ears or turn you into a taco? Well, Facebook now allows you to do the same thing. The basic idea is that you can spend some of your advertising dollars to create custom filters for users to use, and those filters will act as highly engaging advertising.

SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping)

Facebook also talked about a new technology, called SLAM, which is slightly, yet importantly, different from the filters above. Whereas the underlying technology of the above allows you to recognize and digitally paint on a person’s face, this recognizes shapes and objects in the real world, which allows you to now place digital items into the physical world, and have those items follow real world physics laws (e.g. you put a digital cup on a table, and as you pan around the table, the cup stays in the same place as if it were a real cup!)

Now, you might be thinking, “So what? Why is this relevant?” But imagine leveraging this form of AR to allow users to digitally tag things relevant to your business. For example, let’s go back to our technician example. You can now have your customers use their camera to digitally circle the specific light switch that doesn’t work, or where they left the keys under the mat so that your technician can find it and head outside, or a note on the wall with special instructions just for the technician. This could allow you to offer a better service than your competitors, giving you that leg up you need to attract customers and grow your business.

Facebook Spaces

Whereas the above announcement is all about AR (Augmented Reality), this is Facebook’s VR (Virtual Reality) play. As a small business owner, imagine building a space on Facebook Spaces for your business to act as a digital customer service center. Imagine a future where everyone has a VR headset, and customers who want to learn more about your service don’t have to take the time to drive down, and they also don’t have to settle for the limitations of a phone call. Instead, they can enter Facebook’s virtual world, find your virtual store in that virtual world, and then engage with someone from your sales or customer support team through that virtual store.

Facebook Messenger

New integrations in Messenger allow for games, music sharing, and more capable bots. These bots can now be included in group chats, allowing businesses to provide useful services for drawing in new customers. Discovery of these bots has also been enhanced, making it easier for customers to find relevant bots.

For example, customers could interact with an electrical services business through the convenience of Facebook Messenger, and on their phone. (As of last week, customers can now scan QR codes from a flyer and immediately be put into a conversation with the business.) On the small business side, the owner could automate the matching process: using software to dispatch customer’s requests to the appropriate electrician in that area.

Giving beyond the big-name nonprofits

Vox.com published an article this Monday on the “income inequality” of nonprofits — rich charities keep getting richer because they have the resources to market/fundraise and because everyone knows their familiar name.  Each marginal dollar donated to these large organizations potentially is less effective than the same dollar donated to a lesser-known, smaller nonprofit.  The article urges U.S. donors to try to find these lesser-known nonprofits where their dollar could possibly be more effective and asks donors do their research before giving.

This can be a daunting process (how do you even begin?), so my companion piece here leads potential donors to the most suitable resource for their mindset.

What can happen to your electronics at the US border?

The politics and policies tied to U.S. borders have perhaps never been so fraught and new data released last week by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed that turmoil has reached the electronic devices we all increasingly carry in our pockets and suitcases. Searches of electronic devices by Customs officials at borders and airports have nearly doubled in the past six months, according to the latest information released by the agency. In a press release the agency stressed that the 14,993 searches–up from 8,383 in the same period tin 2016 and 8,503 in 2015still only represented 0.008 percent of the approximately 189.6 million travelers arriving to the United States. Nonetheless, the report confirmed the fears of civil liberty and privacy groups who say they have seen a steady uptick in the number of searches being reported.

INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS PROCESSED
FY2016 FY2017
OCTOBER 31,239,053 32,248,121
NOVEMBER 30,350,596 30,430,424
DECEMBER 32,717,813 33,009,690
JANUARY 31,215,009 31,593,522
FEBRUARY 28,209,735* 28,209,602
MARCH 32,643,912 34,103,063**
TOTAL 186,376,118 189,594,422
INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS PROCESSED WITH ELECTRONIC DEVICE SEARCH
FY2016 FY2017
OCTOBER 857 2,560
NOVEMBER 1,208 2,379
DECEMBER 1,486 2,404
JANUARY 1,653 2,756
FEBRUARY 1,470 2,299
MARCH 1,709 2,595
TOTAL 8,383 14,993
*February 2016 was a leap year.
**March international arrivals are approximate.walk through new study and make some graph of the data

Source and images CBP

Also this week, the prominent documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras finally received the results of a Freedom of Information Act request she had made in 2015 regarding the approximately 40 border searches and interrogations she underwent between 2006 and 2012. This was before she became internationally famous for her role in the Edward Snowden leaks and revelations, which she chronicled for her Academy Award-winning documentary CITIZENFOUR. “When it first started happening, I was naive and thought as soon as they realize I am a journalist and filmmaker I’ll stop being detained at the border,” Poitras told me in a 2014 interview. “And then it didn’t end.”

According to the information she received this week, Poitras had been singled out for extra attention and caution because of allegations regarding her involvement with an ambush of U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2004. (Some soldiers alleged they had seen her on a roof filming the ambush and suggested she had prior notice of the attack. Poitras has vehemently denied the allegations and the army said in 2006 that it did not have sufficient evidence to bring any charges). While Poitras’s example is a unique one, it does shed light on the increasing likelihood that one’s electronic devices may be searched while in transit and the very limited recourse one has to fight back.

So what gives?

Why are Customs officials allowed to search your belongings without a warrant? Doesn’t that violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable searches and seizures”? 

Depends who you ask. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the rights of border officials to conduct warrantless searches of people and their belongings as part of upholding immigration and customs law (thinks searches of luggage for contraband). Civil liberty groups and privacy experts argue these rulings are anachronistic and that the breadth of information available on electronic devices in the 21st century vastly exceeds whatever kind of material was previously available. The CBP last updated its procedures in 2009 in which they give agents wide leeway to conduct searches.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed but the results so far have not provided an overwhelming precedent to change the existing procedures. Nonetheless, privacy groups have been heartened by recent decisions such as a 2013 federal court ruling by the Ninth District of the west coast that extensive forensic searches of laptops at borders can’t be totally indiscriminate and require “reasonable suspicion.” A  2014 decision by the Supreme Court to extend greater protection against the search of electronic devices during arrests was also heralded as important progress that could be used as a basis for future border cases.

How long has this been going on?

Electronic searches at borders unsurprisingly became an issue as both electronic devices and terrorism concerns became more prevalent under the George W. Bush administration, but they really revved up in the last years of Obama’s presidency. At that time, journalists in particular sounded the alarm that they feared they were being targeted by officials eager for information about their reporting and sources; information they otherwise were unlikely to get without a subpoena and long legal fight.

Why is it getting worse?

As shown above, most of the laws and guidelines to govern these searches are outdated and without any clear legal precedent to change the border search exemptions from the Fourth Amendment, agents have vast discretion to apply the regulations as they see fit. The political rhetoric around border protection and general confusion and chaos sowed by the executive order travels bans have created a kind of “anything goes” atmosphere that often comes down to the decision making of individual agents. “The shackles are off,” an ACLU lawyer told NBC news. Despite a number of highly publicized electronic search incidents, the tone of last week’s CBP press release doesn’t suggest the practice will be reined in anytime soon. Even worse, some fear that requiring searches of social media accounts now may become routine.

Crucially, non U.S. citizens have very little legal protection from interrogations and searches at the border, something that is likely to get even worse.

Well this is pretty grim. Is there any way forward?  

Legal challenges are ongoing and unlikely to end anytime soon. There are rumblings in Washington to revise or at least review existing procedures. On April 4, a bipartisan, bicameral group lead by Senator Ron Wyden introduced the Protecting Data at the Border Act to “ensure Americans are not forced to endure indiscriminate and suspicionless searches of their phones, laptops and other digital devices just to cross the border.”

U.S. citizens may not be legally required to unlock their devices (again, it’s murky), but border agents have wide powers to try to compel them to do so (holding passengers until they miss their flight, copying data from devices or seizing them for up to five days). Requiring access to social media accounts has also been contested, though if they are able to open your phone and you are signed in to your social media accounts it’s a moot point.

To that end, most privacy experts require taking measures to protect your devices before travelling. The simplest option is leaving them at home and bringing temporary devices, but numerous organizations and media outlets have published guides to encryption and digital security practices to protect them should that not be possible.

The ACLU also has a general guide to knowing your rights at airports here.