As Expected, Court Says Customs Can Search Your Laptop

from the you-have-no-privacy-at-the-border dept

As was widely expected, an appeals court has ruled that customs agents have every right to search the content of your laptop, reversing the only court case that had ruled otherwise (a few others had previously said such searches were just dandy). The court found (just like the other rulings) that there's an "exception" to the 4th Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure at the border. The government, of course, claims that it needs to be able to search laptops to keep people safe -- but it doesn't explain why it needs the ability to search any laptop even if there's no suspicion or reason to do a further search. The lower court had noted, correctly, that there's so much data and information on a laptop, that it's effectively an extension of your brain. This makes sense. Since so much is digital today, you don't pack up your computer like you pack your suitcase. Everything is already on it. So while you can understand why it's okay to search your suitcases at the border, giving full access to a laptop seems to go beyond reason... unfortunately, the courts disagree. In the meantime, if you're traveling into the country, consider anything on your laptop fair game... unless, of course, it's encrypted. In that case, at least one court says you don't need to give up your encryption key.

Filed Under: border patrol, customs, laptops, search and seizure


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2008 @ 2:30pm

    Why is everyone so surprised by this? Custom agents have always had the right to read any document, file, book, blueprint or any other paper document so why is everyone so up in arms about customs reading electronic documents? You people act like the medium you choose to carry information on should be treated differently. You carry photos of naked children in your wallet you get busted but if you have jpegs of the same thing on your computer you can cross the border without worry? There's nothing new going on here that hasn't been going on for friggin' decades.

    What is at stake here isn't customs arbitrarily reading everyone's computer files. They could care less about your pirated movies and music. Customs needed a clear court ruling so that any suspected criminal/terrorist/general dumbass can't claim their computer files are self-incriminating and thus protected by the fifth amendment.

    Sheesh, get a grip.

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