DHS Reveals Policies For Searching Laptops At The Border: Anything Goes

from the privacy-schmivacy dept

After courts repeatedly have ruled that border patrol customs agents can look through your computer hard drive, or even confiscate your computer, with no reasonable cause whatsoever, pressure from groups like the EFF have convinced Congress to investigate. As part of this process, the Department of Homeland Security has revealed its policies for border searches of electronic devices, and as you'd imagine, the policies are basically: "border patrol can do whatever it wants."

It does not need any reasonable cause. It take away your laptop for as long as it wants. It can copy the contents of your laptop and even share it with both other federal agencies and private entities for "language translation, data decryption or other reasons." Other reasons seems a bit broad.

We already explained how ridiculous the defense of this police was last month, by noting that it's not as if stopping this content at the border will actually prevent it from getting in the country. At that time we also pointed out how silly it was for a DHS supporter to claim that reasonable cause shouldn't be necessary because that's just not practical. That guy was unable to explain why it is practical throughout the rest of the country not to randomly search laptops, but at the border, suddenly it's not. However, this article now includes another defense from a customs official, saying that these searches "do not infringe on Americans' privacy." How do we know? Apparently, we just have to trust the DHS.

Luckily, this appears to be getting some attention from Congressional representatives who find the whole thing troublesome. The article notes that legislation to stop such searches will be forthcoming soon.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 12:00pm

    Should make for a thriving blackmarket in laptops!

    Well at least we will all know where to get some cheap laptops, at least until someone who cares about the idea of property rights comes to power again.

     

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  2.  
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    Russell Feingold For President, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 12:50pm

    Search without a warrant?

    Blatant disregard for Constitutional Rights, that's what this is.

    Fourth Amendment:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    On another note, Homeland Security can open packages. YES, Packages! But won't open First Class Mail. The article mentioned that UPS/FedEx/DHL aren't considered mail, so they can also open those boxes! (Note: the report was edited and had this tidbit removed!)

    Would the public support the idea of your government opening your mail?

     

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  3.  
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    Woadan, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 1:19pm

    Time to download True Crypt 6.0 and use the dummy OS trick CNet TV has in their Tips and Tricks section.

    Please note that IANAL (I AM Not A Lawyer), and I don't play one on TV. So this may be illegal, or found to be illegal at some point in the future.

    Woadan

     

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  4.  
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    Someone actually educated in this area, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 1:37pm

    Ignorance is not bliss, it is sad

    I am amazed at how this story keeps getting recycled to be more alarming. Newsflash, this has been around FOREVER and it is law in pretty much every country in the world. When "entering" a country, you are not in the country. You are trying to be in the country. This is one of the several established exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule that stems from the 4th amendment, like search incident to arrest, exigent circumstances, the vehicle exception, etc. This exception means the law does not require "probable cause", which is the normal burden INSIDE the U.S. for a search. This does not mean that they will just search anyone's property willy-nilly. That would be impractical and a waste of limited resources. There are not a lot of people running around that TRULY know how to search a computer for data. This is a good law that lets us stop bad people. If you are worried about it, don't enter the U.S., or don't bring your laptop, period. Odds are you will never encounter this in person, but it is sure fun to get "offended" by. You might want to pick up a law book every once in a while. I am sure there is a ton of stuff you don't agree with that has been around for decades or centuries.

     

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  5.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Aug 1st, 2008 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Ignorance is not bliss, it is sad

    I am amazed at how this story keeps getting recycled to be more alarming

    Not being "recycled." Just adding new facts, such as the specifics of the policy.

    And I don't find it any more alarming that it was originally.

    Newsflash, this has been around FOREVER and it is law in pretty much every country in the world.

    Ah, so because there's a bad law that's been around FOREVER, we should all just shut up and accept it. Nice.

    This is one of the several established exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule that stems from the 4th amendment, like search incident to arrest, exigent circumstances, the vehicle exception, etc. This exception means the law does not require "probable cause", which is the normal burden INSIDE the U.S. for a search.

    Yes, we recognize that. The question is whether or not this exception makes sense. Clearly, many people feel it does not, which is why we're having this discussion.

    I'm sorry, but "it's ok, because it's the way we do things" is not exactly a convincing argument.

    This is a good law that lets us stop bad people.

    Ah, yes. It's all about good and evil. I'm sorry if I like to see a little proof before I believe that such policies really help.

    Besides, no one has yet explained what's wrong with requiring probably cause before a search. It just gets brushed over by defenders of the status quo by talking about stopping "bad" people.

    If that's your only excuse, please explain why it's not okay to search random people on the street without probable cause. After all, that too might catch some "bad" people.

    Odds are you will never encounter this in person, but it is sure fun to get "offended" by.

    Oh, yes, because how dare we be offended by our gov't stomping on the rights of others. We should only be concerned when it impacts us directly.

    Please.

    You might want to pick up a law book every once in a while. I am sure there is a ton of stuff you don't agree with that has been around for decades or centuries.

    Yes, and we're doing our best to help rectify that. I'm sorry if that offends you.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 2:05pm

    The Government hates you. It's really that simple.

     

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  7.  
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    JB, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 2:21pm

    Send it out for Decryption

    "officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons"

    I'd love to see further explanation of the data decryption claim.

    Specifically, what are the capabilities, what has been accomplished and what has not been accomplished.

    Maybe some specific cases where these federal agencies and private entities have actually broken the encryption.

     

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  8.  
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    CVPunk, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 2:41pm

    "I have often thought that if a rational Fascist dictatorship were to exist, then it would choose the American system." ~Noam Chomsky

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 4:37pm

    border patrol needs a new notebook? No problem....

     

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  10.  
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    Darksurf, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 4:39pm

    CIA issued spy suitcase.

    Now where did I put my CIA issued spy suitcase with the secret compartment?

    This is horrible. Do you know how long it will take me to super encrypt my entire HD?! Then I'll have to add a security key that will government wipe the HD when the PASS is entered incorrectly twice.

    I kinda feel as thought my privacy rights are being violated. They are pretty much saying. If I want to see whats in your house I can just walk in take what I want, you may or may not see it again and hell I can just take your house, without any reason or explanation. My Laptop is my life. I live on my computers! Can you actually sue the government for something like this? I don't remember signing any contract saying you could invade my privacy and take my rights.. Where is my lawyer!?

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Angry Itch, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 5:21pm

    Re: Re: Ignorance is not bliss, it is sad

    Hi Mike,

    I have been enjoying Techdirt for a few weeks now. Nice soapbox! Did “Someone” think this was a blog on Fox or CNN? Unfortunately, “Someone” is right about one thing. Many Americans are ignorant about law in this country and abroad. Indeed, Ignorance is not bliss! Ignorance is the path to enslavement.

    When enough honest Americans become aware of just how fragile our American dream is, there will be change. I see we have crept close enough to that threshold that this discussion is possible. Keep up the good work!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    bikey (profile), Aug 2nd, 2008 @ 12:31am

    laptops

    At least the link between 'security' and the extraordinary lobbying power of the IP industry is now becoming clear. Everyone has infringing material on their laptop. With pending enforcement legislation (S. 3325, the "Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008," see eff.org for more info)and the secretive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, no one is safe from the police state. If you live in the world, you have 'something to hide'.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Aug 2nd, 2008 @ 6:23am

    Re: Ignorance is not bliss, it is sad

    > Newsflash, when "entering" a country, you are not in the country.
    > You are trying to be in the country.

    Newsflash: the Constitution doesn't just protect American citizens' rights from violation by the American government when they are in America. It protects citizens *anywhere* on the planet.

    The American government can't violate my constitutional rights in Africa any more than it can do so in Alabama.

    And there's no "except at the border" language in the 4th Amendment at all. That's merely an example of the government blatantly ignoring the Constitution to suit its own ends and the fact that it's been "happening forever" doesn't make it any more legal.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2008 @ 12:43pm

    Does DHS search the laptops of people trying to enter branded communities?

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    inc, Aug 2nd, 2008 @ 9:25pm

    last i check legislation has been in the constitution for quite some time... I'd say it's 4th on the list.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    meddle, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 2:15am

    Re: Ignorance is not bliss, it is sad

    >>When "entering" a country, you are not in the country.
    >>You are trying to be in the country.

    If the United States believes in the Bill of Rights, then the rights should apply equally to everyone in the world.


    >>This does not mean that they will just search anyone's >>property willy-nilly. That would be impractical and a >>waste of limited resources.

    Yeah. There is no way any employee of any organization would ever waste resources or be impractical. Especially government.


    >>This is a good law that lets us stop bad people.

    References? Give us an example of when a search of this kind put the bad guy away.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Ferin, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 5:16am

    People already reacting

    My brother's company sent him don to Chile recently, and because of this changed their policies on him taking a laptop. They gave him a perfectly clean one and set up a VPN tunnel that he downloaded everything from when he got there. Once he got done he uploaded verything again and ran an erasure program to wipe the laptop for going back through.

    His comment was: "The stupid thing of it is, my company's now talking about outsourcing some of the jobs involving international travel so they don't have to deal with this crap."

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    (Not so) Anonymous, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 9:29pm

    bypassing the unconstitutional searches by using the internet

    In the comments of the previous incarnation of this article someone said something to the effect that data passing into and out of the US via the internet is not searched.

    Well I got some news people, Project Echelon has been doing this for AT LEAST 10 years. And now with FISA, Fuehrer Bush can and does search any data, be it faxes, email, or voice. Automated systems can *easily* (and do) watch for key words or phrases in any of these media, and encrypted traffic is most likely just flagged and recorded for later decryption. You DO know that the super top secret tech the government has is AT LEAST 20 years ahead of commercial stuff, right??

    For myself I just presume that the SSS .. er, I mean the NSA/DHS/CIA is just recording everything. So when or if I mention the words package, airport, plans, time, flight, guns, bombs, and explosives in the same message or conversation, I chuckle at the thought that it most likely gets flagged and a bored government employee reads or listens to see what the rest of the conversation is about.

    Then I wonder if it would be worthwhile to try and start some open source gaming project and name it something like C4, AK-47, or maybe even Hijiacker.

    BTW does NSA stand for Not So Anonymous?

    Cheers!
    NsA ..

    PS: To the the bored gov't employee reading this message: Doesn't it bother your sense of morality working for such an organization??

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    دردشه, Jul 11th, 2009 @ 9:16am

    His comment was: "The stupid thing of it is, my company's now talking about outsourcing some of the jobs involving international travel so they don't have to deal with this crap

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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