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. icon
    John (profile), 23 Apr 2008 @ 6:57pm

    Can't compare this to searching books

    Sure, the government may have the right to open your book or magazine to "make sure" (make sure of what? who knows).

    But, your laptop is much more personal. Suppose your laptop is your main computer (you don't have a desktop) and you also use it for work. What might be on it? Your personal finances (Quicken and QuickBooks), confidential files relating to your business (designs, sketches, contracts with other people, etc).

    What happens when some government agency "looses" your laptop with ALL of the personal information stored in Quicken? Bank information, bank access codes, password, credit card information, SSN, addresses, etc.
    And QuickBooks could contain all of this information for the employees on your payroll.
    Granted, the possible identity theft isn't that great, but why even take the chance?

    Why can't we go back to the system we had back in 2000 where the TSA agents asked you to turn on your computer to prove it wasn't a bomb? What is the *need* to look through people's files? Like so many posters said, does the government really think they'll catch the next terrorist because he has a file called "way_to_blow_up_buildings.doc"? It's 2008: the would-be terrorist doesn't need a Word file when there are a gazillion *websites* out there.
    Or is that the next plan? Browse the web on people's laptops when they cross the border?

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