Judge Says DHS Can't Hang Onto Travelers Laptops To Search Much Later Without A Warrant

from the a-bit-of-good-news dept

We just had a story about a court ruling saying that it was okay for customs agents to take a laptop away and search it somewhere else if they had reasonable suspicion. This has followed a string of controversial court decisions, which say there are no 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure at the border. On top of that, the Department of Homeland Security has made it pretty clear that it feels it can do whatever it wants at the border.

However, there may be some limits. Another recent court ruling has told Homeland Security that it cannot seize a laptop, hang onto it indefinitely and do searches on it many months later without a warrant. It’s not entirely clear where the line lies here. The court basically says that earlier searches of the same laptop were fine, but there was no reason to hold onto it for so many months and then do another search.

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Comments on “Judge Says DHS Can't Hang Onto Travelers Laptops To Search Much Later Without A Warrant”

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Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stalemate

no, they cannot force you to give any passwords.
Sadly, at the UK border under RIPA they can demand passwords. What exactly is supposed to happen if you genuinely cannot remember or don’t know (eg if you were transporting the laptop for someone else) is not clear. Also, if you use Truecrypt and they believe that there are more layers than you admit to then it is not clear what follows.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: @1 In all seriousness, depends only on their whims.

You are now subject to epsilon minuses with nearly unlimited power. There’s a thin veneer of process and civility left, but while you’re standing there in your socks, you’d better not make the least remark that implies you have rights. They can seize not only your laptop but your person, and literally disappear you, no charge, no lawyer, no trace, and no appeasing them with merely giving your password.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Remind me...

The spooks seem more interested in their own agendas and emulating the Gestapo than trying to protect American citizens


The East German Stasi also engaged in rampant surveillance, using a network of snitches to assemble secret files on every resident of East Berlin. They knew who was telling subversive jokes–but missed the fact that the Wall was about to come down.

or to quote the great Robert Anton Winston: “National security is the chief cause of national insecurity.”

WammerJammer (profile) says:

Lock it down

Encrypt it before you travel and the passwords are your business and you cannot be forced to give them up. The police everywhere lie and cannot be trusted so tell them nothing. They are the true privacy wreckers. Get on a cop’s radar and you’ll never see privacy again.
Police Lie. Politicians Lie. Lawyers Lie. This is their job, to defraud, to stretch the truth, to lie. So if Homeland Security tells you a thing it is either a lie or a partial truth. The time has come to decide who to trust. The battle lines have been drawn and now more than ever it is THEM or US.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is in line with previous case law regarding searching of packages in shipment. Law enforcement agencies CAN do certain non-intrusive searches (like bring a drug sniffing dog through a UPS/FedEx/whatever shipping hub), but they can’t delay a package they think might have something “bad” in it unless they get a warrant first.

So same basic deal.

Ed C. says:

It might be one thing for them to have the right to seize property at the board without cause, but then taking it into the county without obtaining a warrant should make the seizure and the possession unlawful. They may not have to abide by the law when they are “outside” the country, but they damn better have to abide by it the moment they set one foot into it!

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