The Washtington Post recently reported that federal agents may confiscate anyone’s laptop or other electronic device when entering the country, including U.S. citizens, as part of border search policies by the Department of Homeland Security.
An increasing number of international travelers have reported that their laptops, cellphones and other digital devices have been taken — for months, in at least one case — and their contents examined. 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. They also cover “all papers and other written documentation,” including books, pamphlets and “written materials commonly referred to as ‘pocket trash’ or ‘pocket litter.’ ”
International business people should be especially careful. Imagine that you’re traveling to the U.S. to make a business presentation and you have sensitive business “notes” on any of your electronic devices. You could potentially have a big problem because of the loss, or delays, of “time sensitive” business dealings. How would you like to have your cell phone or blackberry “confiscated” when you cross any border? You should be sure to have “everything” on paper and in a safe place for retrieval.
- They may take your device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing.
- Officials may share copies of the laptop’s contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“They’re saying they can rifle through all the information in a traveler’s laptop without having a smidgen of evidence that the traveler is breaking the law,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Notably, he said, the policies “don’t establish any criteria for whose computer can be searched.”
In April, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the government’s power to conduct searches of an international traveler’s laptop without suspicion of wrongdoing. The Customs policy can be viewed at: