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 @ 2:56pm

    Re:

    I understand your point on this, but the fact remains that the privilege is being abused by customs agents who are confiscating and searching these devices without any due cause. IMHO, they should be bound by the same rules as police officers in this country, which means they need a warrant or due cause to start such a search.

    Again, we're not talking about bombs inside of laptop casings here. We're talking about the equivalent of books and various forms of documentation. There should be a reason they have to search through your data. It's almost to the point of being a witch hunt, like they're just trying to find some excuse to take our rights away.

    The problem really starts to become evident with reports of these devices being confiscated and never returned, again without due cause. Either our rules regarding the proper conduct of our customs agents are not strict enough, or we have corrupt agents who are not following said rules.

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