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
    Mike (profile), 24 Apr 2008 @ 1:05am

    Re:

    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?

    It's rather simple (or so I thought). If you're carrying documents, files, books or blueprints on you, you chose to take them *specifically* with you on the trip.

    That's not the case with files on your computer, which have likely accumulated over time.

    If you were travelling internationally, there are lots of documents you wouldn't take with you, but stuff on your computer it's the opposite. You have to proactive chose to NOT take them.

    That's why it's quite different.

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