Friday, August 28, 2009

DHS Revises Border Laptop Search Rules - ACLU Not Satisfied

I'm doing a follow up on yesterday's post about the ACLU's lawsuit demanding that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) release details of its policy that allows the agency to search travelers' laptops at U.S. borders without suspicion of wrongdoing.

It appears that the government has at least been pressured into attempting to address (though inadequately) complaints by privacy advocates that the CBP policy violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, protecting U.S. citizens against unreasonable search and seizure.

The CBP policy allows agents to conduct searches of "documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices," without suspicion of a crime.

I do take some solace that this issue also made it into the Washington Post today. I am consistently dismayed by what short thrift the issue of privacy seems to get in today's mainstream media - particularly in light of the Obama Administration's adoption of nearly all of what many believe were the Bush team's unconstitutional approaches to "national security".

Before I get to the Post article, here's today's follow up in PC World:

The new guidelines, unveiled Thursday, continue to allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to search electronic devices during border crossings without suspicion of wrongdoing. Both CBP and ICE are part of DHS.

The new rules were announced by DHS a day after the ACLU filed a lawsuit in an effort to get more information about border laptop searches. The ACLU and other groups have complained that the laptop search policy violates the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.


The guidelines require CBP to complete a search of an electronic device within five days and ICE to complete a search within 30 days. In addition, agents must take additional steps to inform and educate travelers about the searches, and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will conduct an assessment of the policy's impact on civil rights within 120 days, Chandler said.


"DHS' latest policy announcement on border searches is a disappointment and should not be mistaken for one that restores the constitutional rights of travelers at the border," she said. "Members of the public deserve fundamental privacy rights when traveling and the safety of knowing that federal agents cannot rifle through their laptops without some reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing."

The ACLU does not oppose border searches, she added. "But it does oppose a policy that leaves government officials free to exercise their power arbitrarily," Crump said. "Such a policy not only invades our privacy but can lead to racial and religious profiling."

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Now here are some choice clips from the Washington Post piece:

The Obama administration will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search -- without suspicion of wrongdoing -- the contents of a traveler's laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device, although officials said new policies would expand oversight of such inspections.

The policy, disclosed Thursday in a pair of Department of Homeland Security directives, describes more fully than did the Bush administration the procedures by which travelers' laptops, iPods, cameras and other digital devices can be searched and seized when they cross a U.S. border. And it sets time limits for completing searches.


"It's a disappointing ratification of the suspicionless search policy put in place by the Bush administration," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It provides a lot of procedural safeguards, but it doesn't deal with the fundamental problem, which is that under the policy, government officials are free to search people's laptops and cellphones for any reason whatsoever."


Under the policy begun by Bush and now continued by Obama, the government can open your laptop and read your medical records, financial records, e-mails, work product and personal correspondence -- all without any suspicion of illegal activity," said Elizabeth Goitein, who leads the liberty and national security project at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice.

Goitein, formerly a counsel to Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), said the Bush policy itself "broke sharply" with previous Customs directives, which required reasonable suspicion before agents could read the contents of documents. Feingold last year introduced legislation to restore the requirement.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Again, I just feel there's something especially invasive about the government - or anyone for that matter - searching through my laptop. Let's face it, laptops are practically like a diary these days...there simply is almost NOTHING that I have that isn't on my computer. I am wholeheartedly with the ACLU on this.

I hate to always go back to the "slippery slope" argument - because it is often overused and misused by people trying to make a political point - but it really applies here. We're talking about seizing laptops without any suspicion of wrongdoing! The ways and degrees to which such a right could be abused by the government sends shivers down my spine (I'll get into what I believe some of the ways this could be done in the next post on this topic).

No comments: