Two British tourists were detained after tweeting a joke about Marilyn Monroe. Is Homeland Security monitoring social media too closely?
Bloomberg/Businessweek, 30 January 2012
Planning to make a joke on Twitter about bombing something? You might want to reconsider: According to a report from Britain, two tourists were detained and denied entry into the U.S. recently after they joked about destroying America and digging up Marilyn Monroe. That the Homeland Security Dept. and other authorities—including the FBI—are monitoring such social media as Twitter and Facebook isn’t surprising. That these authorities are willing to detain people based on what is clearly a harmless joke, however, raises questions about what the impact of all that monitoring will be.
Leigh Van Bryan, a 26-year-old bar manager from Coventry, told The Sun that he and friend Emily Bunting were stopped by border guards when they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport and were questioned for five hours about messages Van Bryan had tweeted saying he planned to “destroy America.” After the questioning, during which Homeland Security agents threatened the two, said Van Bryan, they were put into a van and taken—along with a few illegal immigrants—to a holding cell and held overnight. The next morning, they said, Van Bryan and Bunting were forced to take a plane back to England.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the officers gave Van Bryan a document that detailed why he was refused admission into the U.S. The document reads like a bad joke itself, saying:
“He had posted on his Tweeter [sic] website account that he was coming to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe. … Also on his tweeter [sic] account Mr. Bryan posted that he was coming to destroy America.”
Van Bryan told the newspaper he tried to explain to Homeland Security officials that the term “destroy” was British slang referring to a party and that his comments about “digging up Marilyn Monroe” were an attempt at humor, but the officers didn’t listen. The authorities even searched the two tourists’ luggage for shovels and other tools, he said.
Phi Beta Iota: Good news is that our experiences with TSA do not bear out the many horror stories in the media. Bad news is that DHS may be retarded beyond all expectations.