Bills Introduced To Protect Laptops At Border Searches

from the restoring-the-4th-amendment dept

As was widely expected following earlier statements from politicians such as Russ Feingold, legislation has now been introduced that would curb Homeland Security's ability to randomly search laptops at the border, instead, requiring them to have a "reasonable suspicion" of illegal activity before they can search or copy a hard drive. This would be a huge step forward in terms of reasonable levels of privacy at the border. While defenders of the random search program claim that it's necessary, they give little proof. You can tell because their arguments could equally be applied to searching a random person on the street as well, as they just give vague platitudes about protecting the country from harm. Yet our country has privacy rights and probable cause for a very good reason. It's nice to actually see some politicians standing up to make sure that Homeland Security live up to those ideals.

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  1. identicon
    Joe Blow, 1 Oct 2008 @ 4:37pm

    Its legal....get used to it!

    In United States v. Arnold, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a defendant's contention that search of travelers' files on a laptop computer intrude upon a person's dignity and privacy interests to the same degree as searches of a traveler's body.[18] Instead, the court ruled that searches of electronic materials are legally equivalent to searches of property. As such, Customs' authority to search electronic materials at the border are limited in only two ways: (1) the search may not cause exceptional damage to the property; and (2) the search may not be conducted in "a particularly offensive manner."[19] These restrictions are applicable to all border searches of property.[20] According to Arnold, the characteristics that make electronic storage devices unique, including vast storage capacity and the ability to track its user's habits, tastes, and preferences, are not legally significant. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit held that searching through personal electronic information in a laptop does not constitute an "offensive search."[21]

    Although the Supreme Court has not addressed the standard of suspicion necessary for a warrantless border search of electronic materials, the current jurisprudence, guided by Ickes and Arnold suggests that customs officers may search any electronic materials (including laptops, CDs, MP3 players, cellular phones, and digital cameras) randomly, without any suspicion, and without any first amendment restrictions.

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