Bloggers have no privacy and should expect none—a lesson painfully learned by a Canadian citizen who was recently turned away after U.S. border guards Googled him and pored over his blog to discover where he lives.
Hossein Derakhshan, born in Tehran and now living in Toronto, posted details of his border experience on his blog, which is titled Editor: Myself. The blog is concerned with Iran, technology and pop culture.
Derakhshan is a freelance Web designer, journalist, and someone referred to in the blogosphere as “one of the great pioneers of international blogging and freedom of speech online.”
He is also, ironically, a member of the advisory board to the Committee to Protect Bloggers.
He had been staying at a friends apartment in lower Manhattan for about a month when he decided to visit Toronto for a night.
Upon attempting to re-enter New York, the bus he was on was stopped at the Buffalo border crossing. As is typical, all bus passengers were interviewed.
Derakhshan said that once the border guards realized he was going to the United States to speak at a blog-related conference—ConvergeSouth—two guards began to Google his name.
Derakhshan told Ziff Davis Internet News in an interview that he is “definitely sure” that the guards spent so much time researching his online persona since they had zeroed in on the fact that he is Iranian and has been back to Iran since he first left it in 2000.
“They carefully scanned the results and found this English blog,” he later wrote in his blog.
“One of them, a very sharp guy in fact, started to read every single post on my blog. And it didnt take long until he shocked me: So you live in New York, right? Thats what youve written in your [blog].”
Derakhshan did, in fact, write that he was based out of New York—mostly because it sounded “sexier” than saying he was based out of Toronto, he said.
But between his offhand blog comment and the fact that he was carrying a Newsweek magazine sent to him at a New York address, the guards found grounds to refuse his entry into the United States, for at least the next six months.
According to U.S. policy, as a Canadian citizen Derakhshan may be legally entitled to stay in the United States for up to six months.
Canadian citizens entering the United States as visitors for business do not require either a passport or a visa, although visitors are required to satisfy border guards of their citizenship, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protections site.
“It was obvious the guy was trying to find an excuse not to let me in, and he found something,” Derakhshan told Ziff Davis Internet News. “He found that I said in the blog that I said Im based in New York now. He said being based in New York is illegal.”
Being turned away at the border is nothing new, but being Googled and having blog posts used to turn away visitors most certainly is.
“I was so shocked by the fact that they were reading my blog, every single entry, everything I had written there,” Derakhshan said. “I couldnt defend myself by saying that as a Canadian I have the right to stay here six months.”
The Buffalo field office of Customs and Border Protection had not responded to phone calls seeking comment by the time this article was posted.