back to article ACLU sues America's border cops: Tell us everything about these secret search teams targeting travelers

When Andreas Gal, CEO of Silk Labs and a US citizen, returned to the US from a business trip in Europe last year, he was detained by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for secondary screening. He claims he was threatened with unwarranted charges, denied access to an attorney, and told he had to unlock his electronic devices …

  1. Ol'Peculier

    And to think the ESTA charge is ostensibly used to promote tourism into the US.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      It seems some parts of the US gov failed their English comprehension tests. They are conducting Anti-Tourist Operations. It's a War on Tour. I mean, it's what those degenerate long haired beatnik music groups do and they are obviously a threat to the security and morality of the nation and anyone caught listening to their music are being radicalised.

  2. sbt Silver badge

    Another win for the terrorists

    There seems to be a lot of secrecy around counter-terrorism. Not sure it's justified, particularly as attacks on freedom in democracies aligns very much with some terrorists' goals.

    I wish TPTB would put the resources into far more widespread criminality, like domestic abuse, but I suspect there's a political 'us vs. them' factor that means the general public feel better if someone else is being policed.

    I hope this wasn't a case of incompetence where they mixed up 'Silk Labs' and 'Silk Road'. Maybe they thought Gal was the next DPR.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: Another win for the terrorists

      You may have hit the nail on the head there.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Another win for the terrorists

      Not sure it's justified

      Really? I'm sure it's not justified.

  3. herman Silver badge

    Hm, the Patriot Act was again extended recently? That basically means the USA is in a limited state of emergency.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      With a certain potus -

      It's in a raised state of emergency.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      The USA has officially been in a State of Emergency continuously for the past 40 years. As of 2014, we were actually in 30 simultaneous Federal states of emergency.

      Of course, one could argue that the essence of modernity is that new conditions are always emerging ("all that is solid melts into air"), and thus a continual state of emergency only makes sense. One could also argue that we have always been at war with Eastasia.

      1. veti Silver badge

        An "emergency" is an acute crisis requiring immediate action. Emphasis on "acute". The whole reason for having a "state of emergency" is to allow the executive to take action without waiting for legislators to discuss it, because sometimes there isn't time for that.

        Now, I sympathise with anyone who gets a bit impatient waiting for Congress to act on stuff, but after 40 odd years, the whole "no time" schtick starts to feel a bit - forced. If Congress haven't yet reached any conclusion about the ownership of Iranian government property (i.e. whether the government property under the Shah should now belong to the revolutionary regime, which is the oldest "emergency" still on the books), we can be pretty sure it's not for want of time.

        1. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

          "The most permanent thing in government is a temporary state of emergency." - Me, just now.

    3. The First Dave

      On the subject of nonsense words, what exactly is "Tactical Terrorism" as opposed to standard terror?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Or Improvised Explosive Device which really meant a modified shell we'd sold to someone not actually fired from a gun.

  4. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    I wonder who has bought the film rights?

    I just know that at some point in the future I shall be visiting a theatre to watch a film (or show) called 'Security!'

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: I wonder who has bought the film rights?

      A laugh-a-minute comedy! You'll be splitting your sides!!

      1. Anomalous Cowturd

        Re: I wonder who has bought the film rights?

        Not so much a comedy, as a farce.

  5. LDS Silver badge
    Big Brother

    McCarthy would be proud of his legacy.

    He's gone, but his ideals are still strong among US law enforcement agencies.

    1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: McCarthy would be proud of his legacy.

      McCarthy was a symptom, not a cause. He didn't create xenophobia or fear of the Red Menace, he just exploited them better. Also the case with Trump and xenophobia / white supremacy.

      "Amplify and exploit the fears and prejudices of the ignorant" is step #1 of the autocrats' handbook.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "he just exploited them better"

        Yet he worked to amplify it as much as he could, and violated constitutional rights in his witch-hunt - and too many didn't stop him because it was popular enough. Eventually he failed before irreparable damages to the country (but not to many of his victims) - but that's how someone can start to destroy a democracy.

        Soviet communism was a menace, but he tried to fight it like Beria and Stalin would have. Terrorism is a menace today, and still you can't deny your own Constitution to fight it - and promote your own internal terrorism that way.

        Of course if nobody follows you you go nowhere - yet still the worst ideas becomes very dangerous exactly when someone exploit them to achieve power.

        1. david 12

          Re: "he just exploited them better"

          Soviet communism was a menace, but he tried to fight it like Beria and Stalin would have By killing people? By sending them to concentration camps in Siberia?. Please moderate your hysteria.

      2. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: McCarthy would be proud of his legacy.

        Yep. Just look at all the media hysteria about some bogeyman and the rise of racial supremacists.

        The screeching gets more insane as the infotainment industry jumps the shark but eventually people realize it isn't true and the panic has caused actual damage. Hopefully they reverse the awful legislation passed by those gripped by moral panic.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: McCarthy would be proud of his legacy.

          Yep. Just look at all the media hysteria about some bogeyman and the rise of racial supremacists.

          Problem is that's real, and also pre-dated 9/11 with domestic terrorism in the US. See the recent shooting in a NY Jewish deli for more info.. Especially as that involved less traditional supremacists. There are still plenty of the usual suspects, who might be feeling more paranoid & oppressed, and willing to use violence to 'defend their rights', whilst trampling on the rights of others. The Internet and cheap air travel has made it easier for meeting of minds, sharing of information, or more practical training.

          The screeching gets more insane as the infotainment industry jumps the shark

          I don't think it'll ever finish. Entertainment is a huge industry, and needs villains, which could lead to people feeling more paranoid and oppressed. See the slew of vitriol around Hollywood and 'ZOG' conspiracies for more info. Or just the way the media might encourage martyrs. We live in interesting times.

          I also think entertaiment might encourage technofetishism. Serious crimes can be solved in 24hrs or less thanks to IT and script writers. Border staff have access to very sensitive analytic devices that can detect minute traces of <something>, but that also incresease the risks of positives from contact and cross-contamination. I've watched a few docs on YT where traces of coke or heroin are found, but no drugs, and wondered just how sensitive those machines* are.. Or if a detection means your record might end up flagged. But it's also shown how creative some smugglers can be. I also wonder if this ends up being part of the theatre, ie showing that customs staff are serious and organised. Or just needing to hit targets to justify budgets, or budget increases.

          I'm more dubious about data searches, either throwing up false positives for profiling, or poking around in people's laptops and phones. I've seen examples in the docs where a phone search is used to show a tourist is really entering to work, but whether the means justifies the ends. Or the bad guys just adapt. Big companies already recommend their staff travel with clean devices, so hardly suprising if criminals follow the same advice.

          *And then there's dogs. I like dogs, but I wonder if having one trained to sniff out money might lead to awkward situations when I say 'Fetch!'.

      3. John Jennings Bronze badge

        Re: McCarthy would be proud of his legacy.

        This outfit was set up by Obama, not Trump, and its base mission remains unchanged.

        There is no point blaming Trump on this one.

        The problem for him now is that if it is disbanded, and 'something happens' - then he will be blamed for that too.

  6. Colemanisor

    I have visited the US many times for holidays and always found the Americans to be polite and welcoming. Not so sure now that I will be welcomed as a visitor or am I just being paranoid?

    1. Ol'Peculier

      I've visited the US half a dozen and absolutely hate the immigration theatre. Once I was doing San Francisco to New York by train and road and was asked to name every state I was going to visit.

      After saying that, last year I flew into a much smaller airport (Cincinnati Kentucky) and the process was very straightforward, but maybe because I came down from Canada on a regional jet with only about 90 seats so there was a lot less people to process.

      1. M Mouse

        I'd expect more scrutiny...

        I've been to the USA a few times (before 2000) but have limited enthusiasm to return, even to see friends.

        However, regarding your flight in from Canada, I would have expected higher scrutiny (a) with fewer passengers and (b) as US security agencies consider Canada to be a soft touch and let in "all sorts" of people with fewer checks, so "via Canada" might be a reason for greater concern, IMHO.

        1. spold Silver badge

          Re: I'd expect more scrutiny...

          Meh I've not found a significant difference between the US and Canada except for more whacky stuff when entering the US. In Canada when departing on a flight we clear US immigration at the departing airport (these little patches of US jurisdiction in Canada).

          As a result of some of the IT work I have done I have Canadian Secret clearance and they have asked my dead mother questions (this isn't as sexy as it sounds, for Top Secret they exhume all your dead relatives and send them to Nunavut to be grilled by polar bears and pecked by penguins).

          I have the Nexus card which means both the US and Canada have screened the ying yang out of me and I'm a "trusted traveller" same as the article. This doesn't mean that some officious border person won't make your life difficult just because they want to. Also it doesn't mean some Artificial Unintelligent system won't flag you anyway and print the dreaded "SSSS" code on your boarding pass which means things are about to become a pain in the arse and you are destined for secondary screening.

      2. Someone Else Silver badge


        Cincinnati is in Ohio, last time I checked....

        1. Chris Fox

          Re: BTW

          I'm guessing this is a reference to "Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport". I've not been there, but from the name it sounds like it's in Kentucky.

        2. Androgynous Cow Herd

          Re: BTW

          Like most of the people of the region, Cincinnati is fat and bloated and spills over it's belt line into Kentucky.

        3. PacketPusher

          Re: BTW

          The international airport that serves Cincinnati, OH is actually in Hebron Kentucky.

        4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: BTW

          But its airport is in Kentucky. Its abbreviation is CVG, for "Covington", a Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati which is near the airport. Though not as near as Hebron or Burlington or Vista Hills.

          If you're at, say, Miami University1 and need to fly somewhere, you'll most likely drive from Ohio to Indiana to Kentucky, so you can fly out of the Cincinnati airport.

          1Which is in Oxford, of course. Oxford, Ohio. (The university was founded nearly 90 years before Miami, Florida was incorporated. The two names are both derived from the names of Native peoples, but different ones - the Myaamiaki in the Midwest and the Mayaimi in Florida.)

      3. Mark192 Bronze badge

        "a lot less people to process."

        Fewer. Less people can still be correct but is very messy.

      4. keith_w Bronze badge

        When you fly into that or any other airport in the US, from Toronto, you have already pre-cleared customs and immigration in Toronto. Unlike being cleared in the United States, if you don't like the treatment you are receiving from the CBA agents, you can walk away.

        Edit: If you do walk away, you can expect that to be noted and in all likelyhood, you will be refused entry into the United States on a permanent basis.

        1. JustDisGuy

          You will be pleased to know that our illustrious Canadian leader, Justa Treadope, has recently changed the law to allow Canadians to be detained on Canadian soil by American border security. Even to the point that the American authorities override Canadian authorities’ judgement.

          No longer will you be able to walk away from pre-clearance zones at Canadian airports.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Don't confuse the American people with the American government. The government may give you a hard time when entering, but by and large, the people are friendly and welcoming.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Well, at lot of us are, or try to be; but it's a big place with a lot of people, so generalizations like that aren't very reliable.

        The US really has several major regional cultures and a lot of micro-cultures. If you want to travel in the US, your best bet is to be a wealthy white cis male US citizen.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Yes, that's why I included the "by and large" weasel wording.

          Any blanket statement about what Americans are or are not is automatically erroneous -- there are too many disparate cultures and worldviews in the US for it to be otherwise.

      2. Ol'Peculier

        I totally agree. I'm lucky to have some good friends scattered across the US and it's because of them I'm "happy" to endure the immigration process.

        And @Michael Wojcik, the Skyline we ordered from was in Oxford...

      3. JSIM

        Re: Don't confuse the American people with the American government.

        Not so fast. 50 percent of those "people" voted for the current state of disgrace, and probably will double down after their huge folly and do so again. Sorry, but the other half isn't doing nearly enough to restore the USA's once golden but now dead-and-buried international reputation. The USA IS its people. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They were taken in by the world's most successful confidence man, and now, everyone is constantly "winning". Well, there's a sucker born every minute, as it is said, and it seems that there is an enormous supply of them in America. It's a damned shame.

    3. Marshalltown

      You'll be welcome if the fellows at the border let you pass. I once saw a traveler insist on being allowed to dispose of his maple syrup at customs in the airport at Montreal. The agents explained the jar was "too big" and expected to "seize" the syrup. The traveler said he would dispose of it then. There were some shocked and disappointed expressions from the agents when he asked for an escort to a sink so he could pour it down the drain. Not that one of them would have left the building with the jar full of first class maple syrup under his coat.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "and believes the government needs to be accountable"

    Well there's your problem, my friend. You don't live in the country you think you live in. You still believe in "The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave".

    Unfortunately, the brave have been ousted by the paranoid, and those who remain are under constant surveillance.

    You want the government to be accountable when it's Trump at the top and his cronies everywhere that counts ?

    I wish you luck with that.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: "and believes the government needs to be accountable"

      You want the government to be accountable when it's Trump at the top and his cronies everywhere that counts ?

      Well, yeah, but it's not like things were great for civil rights under his predecessors, either. When Clinton was up for reelection, the director of the ACLU was quoted in Harper's as saying that a Dole presidency might actually be less hostile to civil rights. And under Obama we had such gems as the DoJ justifying extrajudicial assassination of US citizens (in the infamous "secret memo" and then subsequently multiple times in response to Congress, going all the way up to a letter from Holder). Of course he was following the tradition, established by Bush and his pet Richelieu, John Yoo, of secret memos authorizing all sorts of violations (Yoo is particularly known for his "hooray for torture!" series).

      And let's not forget that the CBP TTRTs which are the subject of this article started in 2015.

      On the whole I prefer the Clinton and Obama presidencies to the others of the past half-century or so (with partial marks to Carter, who meant well but had no political sense), but they have all bolstered the police state. The same is true of most of the current crop of power brokers on both sides. Feinstein, for example, has frequently supported the curtailment of various rights.

      1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: "and believes the government needs to be accountable"

        Feinstein, for example, has frequently supported the curtailment of various rights.

        Certainly she has been rabidly opposed to the rights in the 2nd Amendment, and without that the rest go away in time.

        1. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: "and believes the government needs to be accountable"

          >Certainly she has been rabidly opposed to the rights in the 2nd Amendment, and without that the rest go away in time.

          That's what living in a dream world does for you. Sure you can buy guns and 'tactical' gear but have a look at the hardware you can't buy -- no machine guns, no AP rounds, nothing explosive (and that's just a start). You'd probably do OK against a bunch of 18th century redcoats but against a modern military or its surrogates, the National Guard and increasingly militarized police forces, you don't stand a chance. Wrapping yourself in the flag won't work either -- Old Glory is not bulletproof.

          2nd Amendment fantasists are mostly a threat to their neighbors, not the government.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: "and believes the government needs to be accountable"

            You'd probably do OK against a bunch of 18th century redcoats but against a modern military or its surrogates, the National Guard and increasingly militarized police forces, you don't stand a chance.

            You might do, hence why states keep a close eye on militias. Or simple angry mobs. Ukraine was an interesting example because the revolution was televised. Start with a peaceful protest, add a few mystery shooters and the crowd goes wild.. And then a change in government. Which then lead to scenes like crowds shouting outside police stations. And then something triggers the crowd, who promptly attack the station and help themselves to the contents of the armoury. And then you end up with the situation in Ukraines rebellious provinces and a messy & bloody civil war.

            Or the situation in places like Libya, Syria, Iraq etc where mobs were already armed, or helped themselves to weapons.. Or were supplied with things like ATGMs by 3rd parties. For the state, it's challenging to deal with insurections or terrorist/guerilla warfare because the big guns often can't be used.. Or are, like they were in Chechnya, but airstrikes and artillery could end up perpetuating insurrections.

            Then there are the psychological challenges, like police, army or National Guard units might not want to open fire on their neighbors, or might end up defecting with their gear.. As happened in Ukraine, Libya, Syria etc.

            2nd Amendment fantasists are mostly a threat to their neighbors, not the government.

            Mostly agree, but the danger in politics is a combination of division and perceived oppression. So neighbors may become sympathetic with fantasists, and situations escalate. Or divisions become wider, so people drifting further to the left/right, which seems to be happening in the US. Which is a strange place. I have mixed views wrt 2nd Amendment issues, ie I think background checks are reasonable and sensible, and some of the weaponry available probably shouldn't be.. Which leads to legislative challenges, like defining 'assault rifles'.

          2. Ghostman

            Re: "and believes the government needs to be accountable"

            Another person that doesn't understand laws and regulations for buying military equipment.

            Short of a nuclear warhead, any civilian with a Class III Federal Firearms license can buy and use any military surplus they wish.

            M-16, M-60, M1-A1 tanks, Patriot Missile systems, I've even been to a government auction where bids were taken on a Minuteman missile.

            Class III FFL applicants undergo very strict background and FBI checks.

            Myself, I have permits and licenses to import "ammunition, components, firearms, and weapons of mass destruction" from Canada. My background checks from both countries took several months to complete, so it's not anything like the ATF Form 4473 and NICS background checks.

        2. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: "and believes the government needs to be accountable"

          "Certainly she has been rabidly opposed to the rights in the 2nd Amendment, and without that the rest go away in time."

          Bad news... all your rights have long since gone away.

  8. Dan McIntyre

    "Land of the free" ???

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Americans are free to pay tax, free to find ways to not pay tax and free to be subjected to whatever someone richer than them decides.

      1. jospanner Bronze badge

        So, capitalism.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          But without the investements that capitalism would make.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Sure, in the same sense that Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun.

    3. Anomalous Cowturd

      "Land of the fee."


    4. ecofeco Silver badge

      Land of the fee, home of the knave.

  9. David Roberts

    I wonder if this is why

    Air NZ have ceased flying from the UK via the USA?

    Possibly people would prefer not to fly through the USA, not because they have anything to hide but because the last thing you want on a massively long haul flight is to worry about your phone, tablet, laptop being siezed and your journey being interrupted for arbitrary reasons.

    Asian routes seem far more civilised at the moment.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: I wonder if this is why

      Any time the missus and I are traveling to some far-flung destination that would normally have been done via a stop in the USA, we do everything possible to go via another country. Luckily, you can go via Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Madrid to South America.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: I wonder if this is why

      A few weeks after 11/9 I was flying to Mexico and scheduled for a 20 minute non getting off stop at somewhere in Florida to refuel. We were taken off the plane. Made to wait an hour and a half before we went and picked up our luggage from the runway and then had to queue up to take it through US customs before another long wait to re-board and finally get to our destination 5 hours late. Even the customs guards at the airport were apologising to us for the inanity of the exercise. At least this was in the days before many people had phones or laptops.

  10. hoola Bronze badge

    Random Checks

    A few years ago I had to fly into Washington for work however due to cost constraints ended up with a ticked from Birmingham via Frankfurt on Lufthansa.

    At Frankfurt I appeared to be the only person on the European flight travelling to Washington. My passport was taken and I was escorted to an area where bag and shoes were searched and swabbed, a load of questions before being allowed to wait for the next flight (Lufthansa) to Washington. At immigration I was also "randomly" selected for additional screening. This took nearly 3 hours of sitting around whilst CBP messed around. Eventually my checked baggage appeared and was then searched in front of me. It has already clearly been opened and searched. What pissed me off the most was the working area where it was searched was filthy. The CBP official used the same gloves from at least the 2 previous screenings. There was no attempt to maintain the integrity of the search. More items were swabbed after being placed on the work area. I was frankly crapping myself that it was going to come up positive with something due to contamination from the work area.

    It was a total shambles and there is absolutely nothing you can do. You are powerless and just have to play the game and hope they don't "find" anything.

    1. Claverhouse Silver badge

      The New USSR

      Uh, was the German venue equally as filthy as the Washington one ? EG, is this now a standard feature of airports universally, or sloppiness in Washington ?

      Admittedly I think American bureaucracy 3 X worse than even our own, but I'm not a fair judge.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At the border...

    and within 100miles of the border and within 100 miles of a location that is deemed a port of entry. Even a minor airport that has never seen an international flight can be regarded as a port of entry. There is very little of the USA that is out of scope for their investigations.

    Just because you pass through the Airport ok, does not mean that you are free and clear.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: At the border...

      Even a minor airport that has never seen an international flight can be regarded as a port of entry.

      This might be technically correct, but I don't believe there are any US Ports of Entry which don't actually have regular international traffic. A PoE has to be officially designated and staffed with CBP personnel; it's not an arbitrary label.

      According to one source, which cites a study by Pew, in 2015 there were 314 PoEs in the US, with at least one in every state. Even under the 100-mile "extended border" (within 100 miles of the actual border) and "functional equivalent" (Ports of Entry) rules, that leaves a fair bit of interior territory in the US that's not under CBP jurisdiction.

      However, the vast majority of the population lives within the extended border and functional equivalent. Of my two homes, the Stately Manor is in the EB (because it's in Michigan, and all of Michigan is covered by the EB); the Mountain Fastness is probably outside the FE, but not by much.

  12. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Just need

    to remind the border guards that the constitution of the USA applies to everyone on US soil, especially the bit about unwarrented search and seizure

    Sadly I suspect a non-citizen quoting the constitution would be instantly deported as a 'potential terrorist'.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Just need

      "Sadly I suspect a non-citizen quoting the constitution would be instantly deported as a 'potential terrorist'."

      I doubt that a citizen doing that would fare much better.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Just need

        Well, a citizen wouldn't be deported - could not be, technically. A citizen could of course suffer an extrajudicial kidnapping and removal to another country by an agency of the government, but that's not deportation, legally speaking.

        But we have plenty of documented cases of citizens being treated badly by CBP, and even more by the TSA, who aren't government officers and thus don't even have the authority the CBP do. There are certainly cases where people - often lawyers - have challenged them and been subject to invasive search, detainment, etc, often with the complicity of local law enforcement.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Just need

          "Well, a citizen wouldn't be deported - could not be, technically"

          True. But a citizen can be imprisoned. Which I would argue is worse.

    2. Vincent Ballard

      Re: Just need

      Not exactly. The constitution of the USA doesn't apply to people, and isn't restricted to US soil. It applies (in theory, not in practice) to the US government. It should, for example, constrain the actions of the anti-tourism police even in pre-screening checks at Dublin airport. And the Supreme Court's rejection of habeas corpus for people held in Guantánamo Bay was clearly unconstitutional.

  13. Someone Else Silver badge

    And yet...

    “While all CBP officers are trained to identify individuals who may pose a threat to our nation, Tactical Terrorism Response Teams were created in 2015 and are specially trained in targeting and analysis to identify those attempting to enter the United States who are suspected of attempting to compromise our national security," CBP's spokesperson said in an email to The Register.

    And yet, they allow Trump, Mulvaney, Barr, and especially Giuliani, et al, back into the country without so much as a how-dee-doo.

  14. Trollslayer Silver badge

    The land of the

    Not so free.

  15. ecofeco Silver badge

    What fascist police stae?

    No fascist police state here!


  16. Andrew Williams


    2015 everything was down to him.

    Even the chump who was detained must have known that.

  17. Wolfclaw

    USA Land Of The Free .. detention that is

    I thought facism was beaten in 1945, seems to be alive and well in USA and other countries, supposedly championing democracy and civil rights !

  18. invisible_hand

    Global entry does not require a card. You're given a "known traveller" ID. I don't remember ever getting a card. If such a thing exists, taking it causes no harm. You only need to know your #, which you give when booking tickets. If you forget it, you can login to the website and get it.

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