Senators Not Thrilled About Laptop Searches At The Border

from the back-off,-customs dept

It would appear that the EFF’s efforts to get Congress to look into laptop searches at the border has worked. This is over the question of whether or not it’s legal, with no suspicion of wrongdoing, for customs officials to take your laptop and search through the contents. Even if the courts have said it’s legal, it still seems quite troubling to many people who believe it’s an unreasonable search. Some Senators have now asked Customs to reconsider its stance on this, with Senator Russ Feingold noting:

“If you asked [U.S. residents] whether the government has a right to open their laptops, read their documents and e-mails, look at their photographs, and examine the Web sites they have visited, all without any suspicion of wrongdoing, I think those same Americans would say that the government has absolutely no right to do that. And if you asked him whether that actually happens, they would say, ‘not in the United States of America.'”

Somehow, I doubt that these hearings will lead to much, but at least someone in DC is concerned about this issue.

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Comments on “Senators Not Thrilled About Laptop Searches At The Border”

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yogi says:


is basically besieged by terrorists but as far as I know no such (stupid) measures have ever been even contemplated.

What the hell is going on in the States???

All you have to do to bypass the check is store the info online and then access it again after you cross the border.

Seems like a really stupid policy.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: What we really need...

> All senators need to do is claim they’re on
> their way to official senate business somewhere
> and they are excluded from regular searches.

Yeah, the Constitution says that but the Constitution also requires search warrants and probable cause for all the rest of us. The border police, with the backing of the courts, have held that constitutional requirement to be void at the border because (as the Supreme Court put it) “the Constitution works differently at the border”.

Well, if it can work differently at the border for us citizens– allowing police to ignore the requirements explicitly spelled out in the Constitution– then it can work differently for Senators too. Their protection against being detained or searched while on Congressional business can just “work differently at the border” as well.

Citizen Greyface says:

laptops in checked baggage

One thought – until, someday, at some distant future, when a new crop of policy makers finally regain some sense to restore a modicum of sanity to the process of living and moving about… pack the laptop in checked baggage. (assuming, of course, that the contents in checked bags are not being read, examined, copied, etc., which very well may be in some cases).

Having said that, however, I am reminded of an incident a few years ago (this my last airline flight ever; since then I have driven or taken surface transportation, regardless of distance ot time) at the San Diego airport: I did not want to expose the film in my camera (this was a compact Leica 35mm film camera – not a digital camera) – to x-rays during a carry-on screen process, so I checked it in my big bag for transport in cargo. I nice thought. However, my checked bag was selected for a random xray. (Sigh… well, ok.) I informed the person about to take my suitcase for a special xray (then apparently a random process) that I had a camera with film in my to-be-checked bag, and that I would like to retrieve the camera from my bag for hand inspection with my carry-on, because I did not want the film exposed to x-rays.

The airline rep allowed me to open my large suitcase and retrieve my camera. He then opened the back of the tiny (2×3 inch) camera and exposed the film. (Mental note to myself: Never fly this airline again… and then I upgraded my thought to never fly any airline again. I’ll go the long way… drive, train, boat… whatever. And so it has been since (for me)).

So… retrieving my tiny Leica with the now exposed film, I glance over to see my regular checked large bag – having just been run through a special tunnel-like conveyor system for xraying – come shooting out of the end of the tunnel at about 20 mph, a mechanically assisted process which sightly elevated the trajectory – as if shot from a cannon. This was part of a process designed to bounce the bag off a reinforced tile wall located some three feet from the point the bag had become airborne, changing direction of the bag by 90 degress as it fell onto another conveyor belt moving to the rearward cargo area.

So…. if one *should* elect to check one’s laptop, plenty of bubble wrap may be in order (and perhaps one of those special little accessory tool thingies used to re-seat loose computer chips) in the event of your bag undergoing such aerodynamic maneuvers with sudden impacts when bounced off walls… as described above.

Fortunately I had nothing fragile in this checked bag (any such items would have been toast).

Final thought: Do airlne/border/customs/yadayada folks have the *right* (duty, need, legal authority) to examine/retain/photocopy hardcopy documents such as business plans, financial data, bank statements with account numbers, drawing, designs, engineering data, and other business and personal, sensitive and propritary information? (Industrial espionage comes to mind; the right person inserted in the right place and time could score big time.)

Of course, in totalitarian states, such considerations are ad hoc affairs, decided in favor of (guess who). In other words, they can “make legal” illegal acts. We have had some recent experience in this regad (but NOT IN MY NAME).

Frequently, there are ways of getting around such crapola (mail/DHL/ship your stuff in advance… virtual office data storage… go/meet somewhere else in a more intelligent, civilized, less paranoid geographic location), but that does not address the core problem(s)… That, I’m afraid, will await a (hopefully) more intelligent, evolved time. May it be in my lifetime (but then again, I am pushing 70, so it may not be).

On a less grim note… has anyone thought of an an “All Nude” airline (Slogan: We/you have nothing to hide and nothing to fear)… or perhaps “Paranoid Airways,” where, upon boarding, everyone is given a taser… with instructions to watch everyone else? (Just a thought.)

comboman says:

reasonable vs legal

Is it reasonable? No. Is it legal? Yes. The border is a no-mans-land between countries where you are not protected by the laws of either nation. If the customs agents want to (and for no other reason than “they want to”), they can search anything they want, including your body cavities. They don’t need to justify it and if they don’t find anything, they don’t need to (and won’t) offer as much as an apology.

Anonymous of Course says:

Re: Re: reasonable vs legal

Entering Canada from the US I had my laptop
searched, every floppy searched, and was questioned
in a rude surly manner. This was in the late 1980’s.
I was working on a project for Nortel and had to visit
Calgary. I used to travel often on business, sometimes
to third world countries, but this event stands out in
my mind. I guess he thought I was taking the bacon out
of poor starving Canadians mouths.

s says:

Re: reasonable vs legal

I call bullshit. All dealings are covered under some laws, and even customs agents need to follow rules and regulations. In point of fact, the DoJ/ Dept of Treasury/ Homeland Security issues directives for customs, and that falls squarely under US Gov’t. So, if you don’t like how our customs agents are treating its citizens, you have the same recourse to complain as any other.

The implied shielding for customs is equally up for challenge. I don’t forfeit my rights as a US citizen when dealing with the US government, no matter where I stand in the universe. I’m 100% certain that the ACLU would defend that stance and win, assuming they don’t stick me in a hole first.

-S says:

Re: reasonable vs legal

> The border is a no-mans-land between countries
> where you are not protected by the laws of either
> nation.

The problem is that no-man’s land keeps expanding and expanding.

The Border Patrol has road checkpoints as far as 20 to 30 miles north of the Texas/Mexico border and they claim the same exemptions from constitutional law there as they do at the actual border.

If only they were so diligent about people crossing over illegally as they are about what’s on people’s computers…

Chuck Nussman (user link) says:

checking things at the border

“And if you asked him whether that actually happens, they would say, ‘not in the United States of America.'”

Seems to me that a lot of things that shouldn’t be happening in the United States of America are happening these days. Well, we’re now protected from a laptop invasion. Too bad they won’t do something about the illegals coming over by the million and the drugs coming over by the ton. Something has gone horribly wrong.

Jason says:

Re: checking things at the border

“Too bad they won’t do something about the illegals coming over by the million…”

I know right, give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free – hopefully I can get the deck painted and the bathroom cleaned before they’re deported.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: checking things at the border

> know right, give me your tired, your poor,
> your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

Are you under the impression that the inscription on the base of a statue has some kind of legal standing?

Or that the person who wrote it intended it to mean those huddled masses should, with their very first act upon arrival in America, circumvent the laws of the very nation they so desperately want to become a part of?

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: checking things at the border

“Are you under the impression that the inscription on the base of a statue has some kind of legal standing?”

Wow, I’ve never read so vapid an argument.

No, you caught me. I wasn’t making a legal argument. I was making fun of empty-headed isolationist dogma. If I was out to make a point, it would be that illegal immigrants add far more to the economy in production than they take out in illegally low wages and public assistance (if they can get it) combined.

The ONLY logically valid argument in favor of our current draconian immigration laws is “We don’t want their kind here.”

But don’t lose hope. With the advent of international outsourcing comes far greater opportunities to take advantage of laborers while offering next to nothing in return. Every day there are new ways to oppress those for whom this nation once served as haven. Before long we’ll be able to keep everyone out and keep right on rippin’em off. Huzzah for squeaky clean globalized slavery!! Asshat.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 checking things at the border

> Wow, I’ve never read so vapid an argument.

Well, you’ve certainly made some of your own that are far more vapid.

> The ONLY logically valid argument in favor of
> our current draconian immigration laws

If you think our current approach to illegal immigration (which is basically to throw open our borders and hope for the best while ignoring the millions of people who are flooding across) is draconian, then I can’t imagine what horrors you would foist on us should you ever be in a position of authority.

And if you think that’s the only valid argument against unchecked illegal immigration and lax border control, then you’re not thinking very hard.

In the course of my job I’ve had occasion to talk with agents of ICE and Border Patrol and they talk about how 10 years ago, between one and five out every 100 illegals caught along the border would be what they call OTM (other than Mexican) and of those, they were usually from other Latin American countries like Guatemala or Honduras. Now they’re finding a ratio of 15-30 per 100 are OTMs and they aren’t just from Latin American countries anymore. They’re from countries like Pakistan, Syria and Afghanistan. Ranchers along the border routinely find Islamic prayer rugs and Arabic newspapers discarded on their land. And when it’s reported, the politicians and upper-level officials in the government just don’t want to hear it, just like they didn’t want to hear the FBI field agents ten years ago who were telling them they had Middle Eastern guys taking flight lessons who had no interest in learning how to land the plane.

All this hand-wringing over national security and fighting a “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan is absolute nonsense if no effort is made to secure our borders. You don’t go out into the city to hunt down potential thieves while at the same time leaving the doors and windows to your home wide open.

> “We don’t want their kind here.”

Exactly. Though not in the way I’m sure you’re implying. (It’s typical for anyone on the pro-illegal side of this issue to immediately start hurling accusations of racism in an attempt to shut down the debate.)

But yes, we don’t want their kind here: specifically the kind of people who have no respect for the law and who want to take advantage of all this country has to offer without any desire to actually become a part of it and its culture.

It’s interesting that the local paper had an article this morning about how the recent crackdown and mass deportations in Prince Georges County Maryland has seen a dramatic decrease in local crime– everything from murders and rapes to petty theft and break-ins. Not only are they instantly deporting every illegal the police come across but this enforcement measure has caused all the other illegals to flee the county to avoid being caught and what do you know, the crime rate plummeted. But I’m sure that’s just an amazing coincidence, huh?

> With the advent of international outsourcing
> comes far greater opportunities to take advantage
> of laborers while offering next to nothing in return.

If you’re so concerned about the plight of illegals, then you should be in favor of *stricter* border control and immigration law, not vice versa. The reason big business loves the illegal labor pool is they can exploit them, pay them less than minimum and know that there’s nothing they can do about it– if they complain to the authorities, they’ll get deported.

Why is the USA the only country in the world that is expected (upon pain of racism) to surrender control of its borders? Even the leftist darling countries of Europe have stricter immigration controls than we do. But every time the U.S. does *anything* to tighten controls on the border and/or enforce immigration law, let alone make the law stricter, the Mexican government complains and says it’s a human-rights violation and that America is racist, etc.

Yet Mexico itself has the strictest and harshest immigration law in the entire Western Hemisphere. If you’re caught in Mexico as an illegal alien, you don’t just get ticketed and released. You go to prison. And even legal immigrants face strict laws regarding what they can and cannot do– they are prohibited from owning property in Mexico, for example. And non-citizens are prohibited by law from doing anything that might influence a Mexican election. Yet Mexico routinely sends people north to lobby our legislatures and to wage PR campaigns against various ballot measures and politicians who want to tougher border control. It’s a crime for us to influence their politics but they have no problem sticking their noses into ours.

Personally, I think we should take the Mexican immigration statute, translate it into English and pass it into law here in America. I mean, how could they complain if we simply adopted their own law? How could they claim we’re racists but they aren’t?

> Asshat.

And now we’ve reached the ad hominem portion of your “argument”. Typical.

Sailor Ripley says:

Re: Re: Re:3 checking things at the border

see, I was perfectly willing to read and evaluate your arguments, compare them with my point of view and if convinced by the correctness of your arguments, adapt my point of view…

until I read …leftist darling countries of Europe …

With those 5 little words you demonstrated without any reasonable doubt you talk out of your ass.
Does this prove the rest of your post has the same origin?
No, but you lose the benefit of the doubt because I’ve never known anyone to only talk out of his ass about 1 singular, very specific thing.

So the rest of your post may or may not be true, accurate and based on fact, nobody who knows Europe is going to believe you after that departure from reality

Bob says:

The Terrorists have already won

Actually, if there were any more proof necessary that the Terrorists have already WON, this is it. The purpose of Terrorism is NOT to kill, but to…err.. TERRORIZE and make people’s lives unbearable.

I think this accomplishes that rather neatly. In this particular case, the TIQ (Terrorists in Question) are more likely the RIAA and MPAA who have lavished a great deal of money on politicians convincing them that digital piracy is somehow going to bring about the end of civilization as we know it.

Good to see that there MAY be some pushback, however, but I wouldn’t bet on Common Sense trumping Entertainment Industry $$$$$$

Of course, you could encrypt everthing but if your data is encrypted, you MUST be a Pirate/Terrorist etc… because HONEST PEOPLE have nothing to fear. This is, of course, why every HONEST person uses postcards. I mean WHAT is that ENVELOPE hiding, anyway??? (and if they just TAKE your laptop, encryption doesn’t really save you from extreme inconvenience).

William says:

U.S. Government is becoming East Germany!

The U.S. government will carry out the laws it creates. So like corporations and special interest groups have learned, if you don’t want some law to be passed, lobby against it in the first place and insure your own legislation is passed.

Meaning, the only way a free open republic that wants a democratic society should first be informed enough to ACT and do something about these bad bills being passed.

Start putting real moral leaders in your government, not the greedy and corrupt types growing FAT.

Is this your country or theirs?

In addition, you have every right, and when you join others, even more rights to work for what is right. That is unless your like the Chinese living in mainland China who for the most part are willing to work for $0.17 an hour making their corrupt greedy government officers wealthy and rich.

Find my any CCP government official that doesn’t earn the typical common slave wage in China!

It’s so bad that the difference is extreme! CCP government officials live different, have more advantages, buy new automobiles, send their children to foreign schools, and abuse, refuse and deny their own Chinese citizens by treating them like honey bees!

Go back to work, 7 days a week! In fact, Chinese Wal-Mart employees earn 50,000 times less by the hour than Wal-Mart’s CEO Scott.

If the Americans don’t stand up, like the French people, is it any wonder why them Americans rights, that Bill of Rights, the Constitution of the U.S. has eroded?

The government is suppose to serve the people, NOT the other way around, in that the people live to work and serve the government, right?

And O-Bomb-a isn’t going to save anyone, especially black folks, just because his skin color is black. Wake up! You don’t pick a leader for their skin color, unless your stupid.

All this has to do with morality, being about to know the difference between right and wrong.

It’s clearly wrong to assume everyone, all Americans must have their laptops seized and searched, looking for evidence against them, solely because the government can do so.

If you start treating people are criminals, what do you think people will become?

No reasons needed, sounds just like some corporate contracts that provide a claus stating, without any reasons what’s so ever, termination can result without due warning.

And whom would want to build their career, their life ahead, bringing in children, starting your family with employment that has no security, at the mercy of a greedy corporation?

Whom by the way, work not to better the U.S., but to enrichen the shareholders investments!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: U.S. Government is becoming East Germany!

Go back to work, 7 days a week! In fact, Chinese Wal-Mart employees earn 50,000 times less by the hour than Wal-Mart’s CEO Scott.

That’s because people are paid according to how hard they work and Wal-Mart’s CEO obviously works 50,000 times harder than they do.

Dan says:

random searches

Think this is something? Wait until it gets to the point that whenever you get pulled over for a traffic stop or pass a checkpoint, the cop sees you have a laptop, memory stick or other digital media. Then he asks you if you have anything to declare before scanning it looking for ANYTHING that violates some law, copyright, or obscure patent.

Sounds ridiculous, and of course, it is, but mark my words, it is coming sooner than you think.

JMuniz3 says:

Laptop search at the border

I believe the government of the United States of America needs to watch the road it is traveling on. To trample upon the rights of its citizens in the name of security and freedom does not make any sense. You cannot have both in too much of any extreme. Either one in any extreme leads to chaos and the break down of the country as a whole. I don’t believe that the government should keep its citizens in perpetual fear either. You know that these searches will not stop at laptops. Any device regarded as storage of information can and will be searched and confiscated. This includes your iphones, ipods, psp’s etc… This must not be allowed to continue. Its a basic infringement of our rights, protected or not. Common sense should always prevail above paranoia or malice.

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