Laptops and Electronic Devices Subject To Detainment at U.S. Borders

Dennis Faas's picture

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reportedly decided that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reserves the right to seize -- for an indefinite amount of time and without probable cause -- documents and electronic media or copies thereof for further review, as well as make copies of, and "analyze the information transported by any individual attempting to enter, re-enter, depart, pass through, or reside in the United States."

The documents and electronic media may be detained for further review, either on-site at the place of detention or at an off-site location. Translated, that means that government contractors, the FBI and The National Security Agency, can hold the electronic media if asked to provide 'decryption assistance,' language translation or other reasons by the DHS. The new "policy" used by the DHS appears to be a result of the draconian Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement we reported on in June.

Supposedly, the seized information will be destroyed unless there is a good reason to keep it, but given the U.S. Government's past history, don't count on a thumbstick bonfire. Earlier this year the security of data held by the CIA, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Defense was reportedly compromised after one of their 'partner' agency's allowed zone transfer access of its Domain Name Services.

Electronic media includes, but is not limited to: laptops, cameras, or "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form" including hard drives, compact discs, DVDs, flash drives, portable music players, cell phones, pagers, beepers and videotapes. It also includes books, pamphlets and other printed material.

The DHS claims that the border searches of electronic information are useful in detecting terrorists, drug smugglers, alien admissibility, contraband like child pornography, monetary instruments, information in violation of copyright or trademark laws, and evidence of embargo violations or other import or export control laws.

The new DHS policies do not establish any criteria for determining which computers to search. Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis) reportedly plans to introduce a bill requiring reasonable suspicion for border searches. As noted by CNET, unless Congress changes the law, the DHS may be able to get away with its new rules. Earlier this year, a U.S. Federal Appeals Court -- whose judges are appointed by the President -- ruled that an in-depth analysis of a laptop with forensics software is permissable with no probable cause or warrants under the border search doctrine.

The DHS says they protect the average citizen's rights, but they certainly show a blatant disregard for civil liberties. The Policy (PDF) regarding U.S. Customs and Border Protection and The ICE Policy (PDF) on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can be found from The Center for Democracy & Technology. More information on the new powers allowing the complete invasion of your privacy can be found from The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Information for preparing yourself to leave or enter the U.S. is available from CNET and The EFF. A couple examples of what happens when you become the racially profiled victim are available from The Daily Kos and

Visit Bill's Links and More for more great tips, just like this one!

Rate this article: 
No votes yet