Border Agents May Seize Laptops

By Swartz, Nikki | Information Management, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

Border Agents May Seize Laptops


Swartz, Nikki, Information Management


According to newly disclosed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies, federal agencies can confiscate a traveler's electronic devices as well as paper documents at the border--without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

Agents can take the device to an offsite location for an unspecified period of time, the border search policies state. Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for reasons such as language translation or data decryption, according to the policies, issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

DHS officials said that the policies, which apply to anyone entering the country, including U.S. citizens, are reasonable and necessary to prevent terrorism. Officials said such procedures have long been in place but were only recently disclosed because of public complaints, The Washington Post reported.

The Post reported that civil liberties and business travel groups have pressed the government to disclose its procedures as an increasing number of international travelers have reported that their laptops, cell phones, and other digital devices have been taken--for months, in at least one case--and their contents scoured.

"The policies ... are truly alarming," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who is probing the government's border search practices. He said he will introduce legislation that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches, as well as prohibit profiling on race, religion, or national origin.

The policies state that officers may "detain" laptops "for a reasonable period of time" to "review and analyze information." This may take place "absent individualized suspicion."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

According to The Post, the policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cell phones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. …

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