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
    Derek Kerton (profile), 23 Apr 2008 @ 10:20am

    Hardware - Yes, Digital Content - No

    They should be permitted to look over, inside, and at all the parts of your physical laptop to check for explosives, contraband, endangered species, weapons, etc. That's the job of customs.

    But they should not be permitted to inspect the information contents of the memory and storage media. This is information, and is protected. Any such information could enter this country over any communication network, P2P, private lines, encrypted VPNs, mailed disks, satellite, etc. Not only is it against our rights, but it is unproductive use of a border guard's time.

    Can I simply lock my laptop with fingerprint encryption and refuse to log them in?

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