Senators Not Thrilled About Laptop Searches At The Border

from the back-off,-customs dept

It would appear that the EFF's efforts to get Congress to look into laptop searches at the border has worked. This is over the question of whether or not it's legal, with no suspicion of wrongdoing, for customs officials to take your laptop and search through the contents. Even if the courts have said it's legal, it still seems quite troubling to many people who believe it's an unreasonable search. Some Senators have now asked Customs to reconsider its stance on this, with Senator Russ Feingold noting:
"If you asked [U.S. residents] whether the government has a right to open their laptops, read their documents and e-mails, look at their photographs, and examine the Web sites they have visited, all without any suspicion of wrongdoing, I think those same Americans would say that the government has absolutely no right to do that. And if you asked him whether that actually happens, they would say, 'not in the United States of America.'"
Somehow, I doubt that these hearings will lead to much, but at least someone in DC is concerned about this issue.

Filed Under: border searches, customs, eff, laptops, senate

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  1. identicon
    Citizen Greyface, 26 Jun 2008 @ 3:44am

    laptops in checked baggage

    One thought - until, someday, at some distant future, when a new crop of policy makers finally regain some sense to restore a modicum of sanity to the process of living and moving about... pack the laptop in checked baggage. (assuming, of course, that the contents in checked bags are not being read, examined, copied, etc., which very well may be in some cases).

    Having said that, however, I am reminded of an incident a few years ago (this my last airline flight ever; since then I have driven or taken surface transportation, regardless of distance ot time) at the San Diego airport: I did not want to expose the film in my camera (this was a compact Leica 35mm film camera - not a digital camera) - to x-rays during a carry-on screen process, so I checked it in my big bag for transport in cargo. I nice thought. However, my checked bag was selected for a random xray. (Sigh... well, ok.) I informed the person about to take my suitcase for a special xray (then apparently a random process) that I had a camera with film in my to-be-checked bag, and that I would like to retrieve the camera from my bag for hand inspection with my carry-on, because I did not want the film exposed to x-rays.

    The airline rep allowed me to open my large suitcase and retrieve my camera. He then opened the back of the tiny (2x3 inch) camera and exposed the film. (Mental note to myself: Never fly this airline again... and then I upgraded my thought to never fly any airline again. I'll go the long way... drive, train, boat... whatever. And so it has been since (for me)).

    So... retrieving my tiny Leica with the now exposed film, I glance over to see my regular checked large bag - having just been run through a special tunnel-like conveyor system for xraying - come shooting out of the end of the tunnel at about 20 mph, a mechanically assisted process which sightly elevated the trajectory - as if shot from a cannon. This was part of a process designed to bounce the bag off a reinforced tile wall located some three feet from the point the bag had become airborne, changing direction of the bag by 90 degress as it fell onto another conveyor belt moving to the rearward cargo area.

    So.... if one *should* elect to check one's laptop, plenty of bubble wrap may be in order (and perhaps one of those special little accessory tool thingies used to re-seat loose computer chips) in the event of your bag undergoing such aerodynamic maneuvers with sudden impacts when bounced off walls... as described above.

    Fortunately I had nothing fragile in this checked bag (any such items would have been toast).

    Final thought: Do airlne/border/customs/yadayada folks have the *right* (duty, need, legal authority) to examine/retain/photocopy hardcopy documents such as business plans, financial data, bank statements with account numbers, drawing, designs, engineering data, and other business and personal, sensitive and propritary information? (Industrial espionage comes to mind; the right person inserted in the right place and time could score big time.)

    Of course, in totalitarian states, such considerations are ad hoc affairs, decided in favor of (guess who). In other words, they can "make legal" illegal acts. We have had some recent experience in this regad (but NOT IN MY NAME).

    Frequently, there are ways of getting around such crapola (mail/DHL/ship your stuff in advance... virtual office data storage... go/meet somewhere else in a more intelligent, civilized, less paranoid geographic location), but that does not address the core problem(s)... That, I'm afraid, will await a (hopefully) more intelligent, evolved time. May it be in my lifetime (but then again, I am pushing 70, so it may not be).

    On a less grim note... has anyone thought of an an "All Nude" airline (Slogan: We/you have nothing to hide and nothing to fear)... or perhaps "Paranoid Airways," where, upon boarding, everyone is given a taser... with instructions to watch everyone else? (Just a thought.)

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