DHS: Laptop Border Searches Are Bad... Except When We Do It

from the that-may-change-soon dept

The Department of Homeland Security has been actively (though with really weak arguments) defending its policy of searching laptops at the border, even without probable cause. Yet, at the very same time that it was staunchly defending the policy and refusing to testify in front of Congress over it, it was also issuing a report warning international travelers not to take laptops, since foreign governments often search them. You see, when foreign governments do it, it's evil espionage. But when we do it, it's for our own security:
"Foreign governments routinely target the computers and other electronic devices and media carried by U.S. corporate and government personnel traveling abroad to gather economic, military, and political information."
Either way, it looks like DHS's own freedom to search laptops without probable cause may soon get curtailed. The Senate has been making noise for a while about introducing a bill to reign in the laptop searches, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez introduced some legislation in the House last week that would establish clear rules, compared to the anything goes policy currently in existence. Kind of sad that we need special legislation to make it clear that the 4th Amendment should apply at the border, but such is life these days.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    eleete, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 3:06pm

    They Make a Point

    Isn't the United States a foreign government?

     

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  2.  
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    Para Noid, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 3:17pm

    The part that scares me

    The part that scares me is the definition of "3) ELECTRONIC DEVICE" http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.6869.IH: From definition: "storing electronic, digital or analog data, and which includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device." Carry a phone with internet/email access, they can look at all of it. Even if it is not on your phone! Sling box video to your phone? We need your house & contents and we will let you know when you might get it back. Blue tooth phone to your car? We need that too. BTW, all these papers you have marked "Confidential", that's Analog data. We need them too. IANAL. but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn. I will now remove my tin foil hat.

     

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  3.  
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    Para Noid, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 3:24pm

    Opps! Lets try this again.

    The part that scares me is the definition of "3) ELECTRONIC DEVICE"

    http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.6869.IH:

    From definition: "storing electronic, digital or analog data, and which includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device."

    Carry a phone with internet/email access, they can look at all of it. Even if it is not on your phone!

    Sling box video to your phone? We need your house & contents and we will let you know when you might get it back.

    Blue tooth phone to your car? We need that too.

    BTW, all these papers you have marked "Confidential", that's Analog data. We need them too.

    Welcome to the USSRA (United Socialist State Republic of America) Comrade.

    IANAL. but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn.
    I will now remove my tin foil hat.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Alex, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 3:48pm

    Clever, you.

    Comparing the United States to the Soviets, that's clever of you. And really, socialism implies governments seizing your property at border crossings.

    And, yes, the Soviets were terrible and did awful things. I never considered that this implies socialism. Silly protectionism? Curtailing liberties? Yes, and yes.

    Socialist? No.

     

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  5.  
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    inc, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 3:54pm

    why do we need a new bill? just enforce the 4th amendment. Your rights to be protected from the government do not end at the border.

     

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  6.  
    icon
    James (profile), Sep 17th, 2008 @ 4:03pm

    I had a dream

    that troops were being housed in parts of Houston that had regained power. Against our will. It was on, reminded me of a Halo match. before any of you n00bs claim that troops would win quickly, remember...Marine training is the gift that keeps on giving.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Beta, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 4:22pm

    Can anyone make a strong argument that the DHS should not be abolished? ("Some people want to destroy America" is not a strong argument-- you must show that the DHS is, in balance, a good thing.)

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Para Noid, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 4:51pm

    Re: Clever, you.

    "Comparing the United States to the Soviets, that's clever of you. And really, socialism implies governments seizing your property at border crossings."

    Sorry Alex but it is true.

    For more than 200 years we (The US of A) has been pushing democracy and privatization of the banking industry world wide.

    The Iron Curtain has fallen and China has allowed outsiders to trade it's markets.

    Lets look at the past few months in the US.

    The FDIC and Fed have been "Buying" (Taking control of or nationalization) public and private banks and lastly 80% of an insurance company (AIG) to keep them from failing.

    (Free login may be required) http://www.rgemonitor.com/roubini-monitor/253625/the_transformation_of_the_usa_into_the_ussra_united _socialist_state_republic_of_america_continues__at_full_speed_with_the_nationalization_of_aig

    The transformation of the USA into the USSRA (United Socialist State Republic of America) continues at full speed with the nationalization of AIG

    FTA:"This biggest bailout and nationalization in human history [Fannie and Freddie] comes from the most fanatically and ideologically zealot free-market laissez-faire administration in US history. These are the folks who for years spewed the rhetoric of free markets and cutting down government intervention in economic affairs. But they were so fanatically ideological about free markets that they did not realize that financial and other markets without proper rules, supervision and regulation are like a jungle where greed – untempered by fear of loss or of punishment – leads to credit bubbles and asset bubbles and manias and eventual bust and panics."

    This guy (Nouriel Roubini)has called all the bubble and crash back in February! And we're not done yet!

    In 2006 he was called Dr. Doom for his predictions and in 2007 was being called a Prophet for his accuracy.

    If you are interested at all in what is going on in the US (and the world) read his work.

    Yes Alex, there is a grinch.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Eric, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 4:52pm

    DHS

    DHS is Gestapo tactics and needs to go away. I now need a passport to return to the US from Canada and now I have to worry about some government employee taking my laptop and Blackberry? Here's a stiff middle finger at Uncle Sam. He is no longer a relative of mine.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 5:22pm

    Border Search Exception essential

    The border search exception to the 4th amendment is well established in United States law. It's understandable that it may be an inconvenience some folks when they travel and are subject to a random inspection, but the ability of CBP to perform random searches on individuals entering the country is one of the primary ways they are able to deter the flow of contraband (illegal drugs, undeclared money, illegal weapons) and human smuggling (recent example).

    Of course, some may argue why should CBP have more authority than any other law enforcement agency? Someone could make an argument saying that such random inspections by a local police department for concealed weapons or illegal drugs would make a neighborhood safer. The difference is that CBP is entrusted with enforcing international trade laws, including tarrifs and embargos on various goods. The courts have held that it would be unenforcable if the fourth amendment held in its strictest form to the border, as that is where goods are brought into the country. Hence, the border search exception to the 4th amendment.

    Full disclosure: I work for Customs and Border Protection.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 5:22pm

    DHS == Dept of Hypocritical Shit

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 5:28pm

    Re: DHS

    you don't need a passport. You can use any WHTI-compliant document, including an enhanced drivers license, a drivers license and birth certificate combination, a trusted traveler card, a Passport Card, etc....

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 5:49pm

    The law won't apply the 4th Amendment to border searches, but it will hopefully add a modicum of oversight and accountability.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Jake, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 6:04pm

    Re: Border Search Exception essential

    Can you be more specific about what constitutes a random search in this context? Are you expected to pull aside a certain minimum and maximum percentage of travellers a day, or do individual officers have complete discretion to pick as many or as few as they deem necessary?
    And I don't think it's entirely fair to compare searches for narcotics or firearms with searches for "material condoning terrorist acts" or some equally sinister-sounding new criminal offence. By all means should CBP be allowed and encouraged to require travellers carrying laptops to demonstrate that they're fully functional -pull the inner workings out of even a modern slimline model and you've got space for enough explosives to blow an airliner in half- but I would argue that arresting people for merely holding certain beliefs is a bad use for your organisation's finite and almost certainly inadequate manpower and budget. Among other things...

    Full Disclosure: I am not a citizen or resident of the United States, though the situation in my home country of Great Britain is broadly similar.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 6:31pm

    Re: Re: Border Search Exception essential

    As for how the inspections of the laptops are done. Remember the goal of the search is for contraband. A good example of this is child pornography which is illegal to possess much less import into the United States.

    CBP's policy regarding this stuff is available online via CBP's website.

     

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  16.  
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    Mike (profile), Sep 17th, 2008 @ 7:02pm

    Re: Border Search Exception essential

    The border search exception to the 4th amendment is well established in United States law. It's understandable that it may be an inconvenience some folks when they travel and are subject to a random inspection, but the ability of CBP to perform random searches on individuals entering the country is one of the primary ways they are able to deter the flow of contraband (illegal drugs, undeclared money, illegal weapons) and human smuggling (recent example).

    That doesn't explain why it's okay to search data on a laptop...

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Dosquatch, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 7:48pm

    Re:

    I can not, in good conscience, make any argument, good or bad, for the existence of the DHS. It is in my mind the monument and executioner of the most egregious erosion of civil liberties in my lifetime, and perhaps in the history of this country.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Dosquatch, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 8:00pm

    Re: Border Search Exception essential

    I'm reasonably sure that I'm not smuggling AK47's and illegal immigrants across the border in my laptop and/or cell phone, which I think is the most valid response to you given the actual subject of the article.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 8:21pm

    Re: Re: Border Search Exception essential

    my first comments were regarding the border exception in general, as some folks have seemed to not get the fact that it is valid US legal percedent established and upheld by the US courts.

    border exception applies to laptops due to child pornography smuggling for instance.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Dosquatch, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 8:35pm

    Re: Border Search Exception essential

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    This, above all, is the foundation upon which all else that is America is built. Jefferson didn't say "All Americans", he didn't say "All white men", he didn't say "we and our allies".

    Jefferson said "All men". Everyone, everywhere, regardless of color, creed, or nationality, is endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, rights from which all else springs, including the Bill of Rights.

    That includes the right to be secure in my person, papers, and effects not being violated. I don't care that I'm crossing a border, I don't care in which direction I'm crossing. If I have not given reasonable cause, then my business is my own and you have NO BUSINESS pawing through my books and electronics.

    There is no justification. We're all on this planet together. Isn't it time we acted as such? Because if we don't, and we continue to ignore our own ideals when dealing with foreigners (and, increasingly, with ourselves) then "All men are created equal" and "We the people" are nothing more than hollow words and we're all hypocrites.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Dosquatch, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 8:45pm

    Re: Border Search Exception essential

    Not to sound too crass about it, but so what?

    Searches for cause I understand, but to dragnet everyone is to say that our government assumes it more likely than not that everyone crossing the border is a pr0n smuggler (or some other form of criminal).

    I'd much rather preserve the notion of "presumed innocent" and miss a pornographer here and there rather than continue to build a DHS police state.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Howard, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 9:19pm

    Cold war and WWII fought for what?

    DHS = Gestapo and Soviet Union wrapped into one.

    What are you biatches going to do about it? You are pwned big time and the tea bagging is just starting.

    The prison planet is here.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 10:21pm

    I'm sorry, Mr. CBP, but I don't feel that we need your agency any more. It's redundant. What's the point of having border inspections when we have a Government that already treats its citizens like enemy aliens within the United States? What is there to say when we have a government that views the Constitution and the law of the land as an impediment to its "mission" rather than as its mission?

    When will we have had enough of this tyrannical usurpation? Where and when does it all end?

    Where and when it ends is when we stand up and say no.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 10:21pm

    Re: Border Search Exception essential

    my first comments were regarding the border exception in general, as some folks have seemed to not get the fact that it is valid US legal percedent established and upheld by the US courts.

    border exception applies to laptops due to child pornography smuggling for instance.

    So why all the big fuss when other governments do it?

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Annony, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 12:47am

    It is interesting to note that laptops were not searched for child porn in the past. Is this being used as an excuse now??

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Enrico Suarve, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 3:11am

    Re: Re: Border Search Exception essential

    Vote for Dosquatch 2008 - He actually gets it, unlike the clowns you keep posting to Washington

    It's the blatant hypocrisy in the manner that the US applies it's 'values' to the rest of the world that has them disliking you at the moment

    Treating other nationals like actual people at your gateway would be a good start, then you could try stopping removing democratically elected leaders from foreign countries, finally you might want to stop torturing people who disagree

    All this might go some way to making your nation popular again (and popular nations get attacked less - it's true we had a survey and everything)

    A vast majority of Americans I've met are intelligent, decent people, how the hell did you end up with a choice between Obama and McCain?

    Anyhow - getting rid of the DHS would be a good first step

    Full disclosure: I'm British and I fully accept that my own government is a neocon lapdog at the moment - no i'm not chuffed about that either

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Dosquatch, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 3:37am

    Re:

    It's an emotional hot button. Something they can safely toss on the table as justification because nobody wants to be that guy who says "So what?" Nobody wants to have to face down the question, "Why the objection, what are you hiding?" with that subject hanging on it.

    They don't care about kiddie porn, they just know it'll keep most people quiet and complacent rather than being "That Guy".

    I'll be that guy because 1) I recognize their "reason" for the muzzle they're using it for, and 2) I care more about our liberties than what any particular person might think of me for standing up for them.

    So again I ask, Customs, so what?

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Altaree, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 3:52am

    This bill is just a stunt

    It is too late in the season for it to pass. It will just die quietly in committee now that the press release has been covered.

     

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  29.  
    icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), Sep 18th, 2008 @ 5:39am

    Re: Re:

    Very well said Dosquatch.
    I have always tried to hold myself to what I see as good moral standards. I realize my morals in no way have to correspond to anybody elses.
    I have been That Guy in a couple situations.
    And in the end I know I am standing up for what this country was supposed to stand for, instead of what it is turning into.
    Fight the good fight. You are not alone.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    patriotson, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 6:38am

    As long as we're talking about the Founding Fathers...

    "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." -- Thomas Jefferson

    Freedom is not, and never has been free,and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The USA as a nation long ago passed the point where we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We are in a fast moving downward spiral of individual rights, hastened to that end by fear mongering that some evil outsiders will come to our home and kill us if we do not surrender gladly our individual freedoms and rights. We will be protected by our great leaders and armies of federal agents that are tromping through our possessions for our own good. All we have to do is go to work, pay 35% of our income to the government, and keep our mouths shut, or just live off the government dole. Either way, we are losing our individual rights and freedoms faster than you can say "No warrant wiretap." This is just my humble opinion and I THINK I may still have the right to express it.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Charlie, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 8:30am

    humans

    I'm so relieved to be a misanthrope.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    John, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 12:43pm

    Just wait

    I say to just wait:

    Eventually, some Senator will wind up with their name on a "suspect list" (Ted Kennedy, perhaps, since his name already appeared on a "do not fly" list). Then, his laptop will be confiscated and searched.

    And look what they find on the laptop: drafts and proposals for new bills, listings of US Senators, documents showing which Senator is in which office building. My god, this guy knows all our secrets!

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Dosquatch, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 4:00pm

    Bummer

    Mr. Customs seems to have left the building. Pity, I really did want him to answer my "so what?"

    I guess maybe his handlers told him he wasn't allowed to play with us anymore. Maybe free thinkers are a bad influence.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    another mike, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 5:16pm

    vote early, vote often

    i think someone's been gaming your little vote counter. it's running at 85% against accountability. apparently someone, maybe they, don't want the fourth amendment to apply to border crossers.
    @ patriotson: that's a negative, you no longer have the right to express your opinion, especially not that one. all humble opinions are now being monitored for compliance.
    @ Anonymous CBP Agent: we know the law grants an exception to the fourth at the border. that still doesn't explain why it is so. why are portions of the bill of rights suspended? it should apply to all citizens everywhere and all residents in our country.

     

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

  35.  
    identicon
    Dosquatch, Sep 20th, 2008 @ 12:54pm

    Re: vote early, vote often

    @ Anonymous CBP Agent: we know the law grants an exception to the fourth at the border. that still doesn't explain why it is so. why are portions of the bill of rights suspended?

    Oh, hey, that brings up another good question. If there's an exception to the 4th at the border, what other rights do we forfeit when traveling? Do I still have the right to due process? Am I still free to worship as pleases me, or speak my mind, or are these fundamental rights also curtailed?

     

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


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