How much *do* they know?

Posted in Random thoughts at 10:16 pm by ducky

I drove down to the U.S. today to return Mom’s car. (We’d swapped our car for her minivan in order to carry more people on the Green College Ski trip). I had this unsettling interaction with a U.S. border guard:

Guard: Where are you headed?

Me: To return my mother’s car.

Guard: What’s your mom’s name?

Me: Natalie Sherwood. [Note: Mom’s name changed in this posting for privacy reasons — but I told the guard the truth.]
Guard: Natalie Frieda Sherwood?
Me: Uh, yes.

How did the guard know my mom’s middle name?

The idea I find least objectionable is that they took a picture of Mom’s license plate, did pattern recognition on it, and looked it up in a database of Washington State license plate numbers.

The idea I find most objectionable is that they noticed that Jim and I crossed the border frequently, and had the FBI go check us out.



  1. manxomfoe said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Apparently they are constantly checking into individuals backgrounds at their own discretion. I had a similar unsettling experience on the way back to Seattle last Saturday after the close of WDN07.

    My 60 minute wait to reach the Peace Arch border crossing into the US left me irritated, and for some unknown reason I had trouble hearing and understanding the questions put to me by the border guard while I was still in my car. I attempted to politely ask him to repeat and clarify his questions when I couldn’t understand him, and he must have thought me suspicious.

    His question: “What do you do?”
    My interpretation: “What’d you do?” (i.e. while in Canada, which is what he had just asked me a moment earlier)

    At any rate, I was asked to go inside the border post and wait around while they searched my car. The person inside asked me a similarly vague question: “You ever have any trouble with the law?” which was clearly a loaded question. I have trouble with lots of laws – why should he care? 🙂

    I must’ve picked the safe answer: “Yes, I was arrested once,” I said. He asked when, and I had to dig up a painful memory from what I thought was 1998. He replied quietly, correcting me. “Actually, it was ’97”

    Only way he could’ve had that info was to run a pretty comprehensive background check on me on the spot. He had it at his fingertips before he asked the question, and was simply testing to see if I’d be honest about it.

    Now if background checks are anything like credit reports, I just got dinged again for a silly youthful indescretion.