Groups seek to challenge US gov't on seized laptops

Laptop searches at borders violate fundamental citizen rights, two groups say

The policy of random laptop searches and seizures by U.S. government agents at border crossings is under attack again, with a pair of civil rights groups seeking potential plaintiffs for a lawsuit that challenges the practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union is working with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to find lawyers whose laptops or other electronic devices were searched at U.S. points of entry and exit. The groups argue that the practice of suspicionless laptop searches violates fundamental rights of freedom of speech and protection against unreasonable seizures and searches.

The groups have the support of Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has argued in court that laptop searches are invasive because devices like laptops contain personal data, which people should be able to keep private. EFF has also argued that some searches have been conducted without suspicion.

"This lawsuit will not seek monetary damages for individuals who have been searched; instead, it will focus exclusively on fixing the unconstitutional policy," wrote Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director and lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a blog entry on Wednesday.

NACDL believes the policy "erodes fundamental privacy rights generally," the group said on its Web site. It "has a particularly chilling impact on lawyers who travel abroad with legal documents that are subject to the attorney-client or work-product privileges," NACDL wrote.

Last year, a document surfaced on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Web site that authorized U.S. agents to seize and retain laptops indefinitely. Government agents belonging to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is a part of DHS, were also authorized to seize electronic devices including portable media players and cell phones and inspect documents in them.

The DHS has defended the policy of searching electronic devices, stating that its ability to "inspect what is coming into the United States is central to keeping dangerous people and things from entering the country and harming the American people," according to the agency's Web site.

The ACLU is already challenging DHS in court over the issue. In August last year, the group filed a suit against the DHS after it was denied access to documents to learn about the policy. The EFF and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) also filed a case last year against the DHS after they were denied access to records on questioning and searches of travelers at U.S. borders.

Tags notebooksprivacy

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service




Stupidity and waste of money...

I don't get why are they doing this. It's either a big money laundering operation (makes sense - they say it goes for security but it goes in their pockets), or all of the idiots in America are working for the government (not only in security, but in politics, too).
When I first read about people having their laptops and phones seized (and never returned or returned in bad condition!), I thought, "WTF?".
WHAT stops a terrorist or other person with bad intentions from uploading their information and documents to an online storage service (most of which operate from US datacenters!!) and just download them after he crosses the border!? While at it, he could also make a profit by selling his equipment for euros in Europe and buy new stuff cheaper in the US :-).
I guess the only thing they could do to prevent this is start checking ALL the servers and ALL the data or implement a "United Firewall" (like China's Great Firewall), in which case the rest of the world will just send them to the Fah-Queue and move their business to the EU.



This is what is stopping me visiting America

As all my work and hence lively hood is stored on my computer (yes I have backups), the fact is I work on the road and I would lose weeks if not months of work getting backups sent from overseas, buying a new laptop, installing all the software required to run my business etc etc . Getting eye scanned and finger printed was bad enough on my last visit several years ago, but this is just to much of a risk for me to take.

And like the previous said, if I wanted to take something into America that I wasn't allowed, it would be encryped on some storage server or if just documents emailed to a email account.

Curious, how many terrorists have the caught by seizing laptops? My guess is they have only caught a few low hanging fruit with kiddie porn.



Its abuse of power simply.

White-collar man



My company instructs us that while travelling abroad never bring a company laptop. You get a laptop locally, boot it from the company live CD, and access the on-line secure data stores as needed.



VM Ware

You really need to use VM Ware. One shouldn't be dependent on the hardware at all. If you create a Virtual Machine and install everything on there, then you can simply have a backup of the VM and use that. At most losing a laptop, should take about a half an hour to recover from. If it takes you longer, then you don't know what you are doing.



A better question for you:

What is to prevent a miscreant from filling a laptop to the brim with viruses, worms, adware, and porn and surrendering it peacefully to the TSA at the border? They take the laptop back to their lab, plug it in, boot it up... and the malware gets out onto their local net.




The policy _is_ plain stupid but so are some of your comments.

"They take the laptop back to their lab, plug it in, boot it up... and the malware gets out onto their local net."

You obviously know 0 about forensics.

"I guess the only thing they could do to prevent this is start checking ALL the servers and ALL the data or implement a "United Firewall" (like China's Great Firewall), in which case the rest of the world will just send them to the Fah-Queue and move their business to the EU."

This would never happen and if it did the EU would have to establish their own root DNS servers since they are all hosted in the united states:



The other way around...

"...or all of the idiots in America are working for the government (not only in security, but in politics, too)."

Not all of the idiots in America work for the government, but all the Americans who work for the government are idiots.

It's our own fault, though. We said, "Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free..." And somewhere in translation it turned into "Give us your poor students, your tired ideas, your huddled masses longing to be freeloaders..."

Here's how American politics works. Every 4 years the Republican party gets together, and says, "Who is the stupidest among us? Let's nominate him for President." Then the Democratic party gets together and says, "Surely we have someone dumber than their nominee, don't we?"

The American electorate then chooses the one with the best haircut.

Disgusted patriot


Illegal search & siezure

Not my problem, I quit flying when government attacked us, instead of eliminating airborne terror by Israeli methods.

When our government was legal, when it mostly lived within constraints of United States Constitution, we were protected from our government.
Now we keep re-electing politicians that rape us. We deserve this.
Criminals have guns so USG attacks law abiding citizens.
Terrorists attack aircraft so USG attacks citizens that fly.
Illegals cross border, so USG attacks US citizens.
Ilegal immigrants get licenses, free medical care, subsidies & more.

You see a pattern yet? The US Government hates citizens that abide within our laws.



The people running the government are NOT idiots. The problem is their goals are not what you take them to be.

Security theater does nothing (or little) to make people safer, but it DOES increase the likelyhood of getting re-elected or keeping your post. Government officials, like everyone else, optimize for their own job and wealth.

Part of the public perception problem is we want officials to somehow be a different type of human that only works for the common good and is willing to risk their career to 'do the right thing' for us.



What is the danger of a laptop anyways?

Certainly plug it in and make sure that it doesn't explode. But what is the SECURITY implication of allowing a laptop in?

The point of security is to keep flights safe, and to make sure that terrorists aren't bringing in destructive weapons. Information alone does not create an immediate threat.

So seizing laptops is merely a fishing expedition under the guise of security.



The cloud is your best friend

Use the cloud to store your private data and remove it off your laptops. That way they wont be able to look at any personal data on your laptops



Laptop seizure isn't the worst thing

As a US citizen living in the state of Arizona, I am particularly concerned about the DHS letting its agents seize cell phones and "personal media players," not just laptops. I routinely drive along the Interstate-8 and Interstate-10 highway corridors between Arizona, California, and New Mexico, and U.S. Border Patrol is allowed to set up checkpoints anywhere within approximately 100 miles of any national border. This means that I could have my cell phone or iPod confiscated without cause while driving between, say, Arizona and California. (In fact, I don't even need to leave Arizona -- I could get stopped between Phoenix and Yuma at a checkpoint.) While I might not take my laptop on such trips, being deprived of my cell phone would be a major inconvenience, not to mention an increase in my exposure to danger while traveling.

The truth is, DHS knows that most of these checkpoints well within US borders aren't going to stop any foreign nationals or terrorists. But since 9/11 gave them the excuse to set up these checkpoints inside the United States, they have been using them to go on fishing expeditions and peform drug interdiction -- roles better served by other law enforcement agencies. DHS should concentrate on making sure things don't get into the country, not regulating what goes on inside the country.



Its like always

USA is becoming rapidly like China. If China can make it USA can make it the difference now is that China is the master now. Cloud computing is not your best friend. How to put sensitive data into network? Its just the sensation/illusion that data are safe into cloud (and even you pay for it). Every bit outside from your computer can be analyzed.
Like one said it is simple abuse of power. The laws are put into garbage.

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