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Britons Denied Entry to US After Homeland Security Doesn’t Find ‘destroy America’ Twitter Joke Funny

Posted on the 31 January 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Britons denied entry to US after Homeland Security doesn’t find ‘destroy America’ twitter joke funny

Department of Homeland Security new to this whole "tweeter" thing.

As if more evidence was necessary that the US Department of Homeland Security has no sense of humour, two British tourists were detained and then forced to return home last week because of some ill-advised tweets.

Leigh Van Bryan, a 26-year-old Irish national and bar manager from Coventry, was denied entry to the US at Los Angeles International Airport after being put on a watch list for tweeting, “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?” He tried to explain to the allegedly stone-faced Homeland Security agents that by “destroy” he meant get really drunk and possibly engage in minor hooliganery, but to no avail. He and friend Emily Bunting, 24, of Birmingham, were also quizzed by agents about another tweet, apparently a reference to American cartoon sitcom, Family Guy, in which he expressed his excitement about “pissing” people off in LA and “diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up”.

Van Bryan told the clearly outraged and a little amused Daily Mail that federal agents even search his bags for shovels and asked whether Bunting was going to act as his “lookout” while he exhumed the dead star. He and Bunting were held for 12 hours in Homeland Security custody – some of that time, Van Bryan said, he was left in a cell with “two huge Mexican men covered in tattoos” who claimed they were detained for trafficking cocaine – before being sent home. The two now must apply for tourists visas before visiting the US in the future.

“I kept saying to them they had got the wrong meaning from my tweet but they just told me “you’ve really f*cked up with that tweet, boy,” Van Bryan told The Daily Mail.

But was that really the case? Van Bryan provided his denial of entry documentation to The Daily Mail, which clearly indicates that he was refused because he had posted on his “Tweeter” account that he was “coming to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe”; coming to “destroy America” was also mentioned. But a spokesperson from the US Customs and Border Patrol, whom The Daily Mail appears not have attempted to contact, told Forbes’ Kashmir Hill that Van Bryan and Bunting were reported by a concerned citizen. “Based on information provided by the LAX Port Authority Infoline – a suspicious activity tipline – CBP conducted a secondary interview of two subjects presenting for entry into the United States,” the spokesperson told her. “Information gathered during this interview revealed that both individuals were inadmissible to the United States and were returned to their country of residence.”

Still, really, Homeland Security? Given the official documentation given Van Bryan before he left, it seems more likely that it was indeed the “Tweeter” message that got the pair kicked out of the country. Hill noted that though Homeland Security has been monitoring social media for about three years now, “DHS is fairly new to this whole social media monitoring thing. Let’s hope that, with time, the folks doing this develop an appreciation for context.”

Big Brother is watching. Nell Jenson, writing at Gawker, wondered more at the speed with which Homeland Security was able to ascertain the “threat”: “Of course, what this should really leave you wondering is how Homeland Security managed to connect the pair to their tweets in only the time it took them to obtain tourist visas and then clear customs, which is when they were detained. Is your passport already linked up to your Twitter account in Homeland Security’s database?”

Not the first time tweeting caused trouble. Elizabeth Flock, writing at The Washington Post’s blogPost, noted that this was by no means the first incident of a tweet getting its tweeter in big trouble with authorities. In 2010, Briton Paul Chambers was arrested on terrorism charges after tweeting “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week to get your sh*t together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” He was ultimately found guilty of sending a “grossly offensive” message “by a public communications network”, and twice lost his job because of the incident. Accusations of “thoughtcrime”, a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, are ringing throughout the Twittersphere.


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