CBP to continue searches of travelers’ laptops

The Homeland Security Department announced on Thursday that it will continue to allow Customs and Border Protection officials to search travelers' laptop computers and other electronic devices without suspicion of wrongdoing.

The practice of searching travelers' electronic devices without suspicion has been controversial. In April 2008, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled CBP agents do not need reasonable suspicion to search travelers' laptops, smart phones and other electronic devices.

In June 2009, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing on the issue, which has been challenged in court 11 times by individuals convicted of having child pornography on their laptops.

Homeland Security released two directives on Thursday, indicating the Obama administration will continue the practice of suspicionless searches, much to the dismay of privacy advocates. Group such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the practice, saying it is invasive and likely to lead to racial and religious profiling.

"Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States," said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. "The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers, while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders."

The new directives describe the department's policy on searching travelers' laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices in-depth and set a five-day limit on Customs and Border Protection searches. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents are allowed up to 30 days to search an electronic device. The new rules require agents to get a supervisor's approval before confiscating a device and CBP must notify travelers where their device is being kept.

But the changes don't go far enough, according to Christopher Calabrese, counsel for the ACLU's Technology and Liberty program.

"Essentially, they retain the power to look at any laptop at any time," Calabrese said. "Our reaction is that we still haven't reached the core problems of the searches -- the totally suspicionless search of anyone with a laptop and anything on a laptop."

Calabrese said in addition to protecting sensitive information like legal documents or medical records that might be on the devices, his organization is concerned about CBP agents using the policies to profile minorities. The policy is misguided, given that anyone attempting to smuggle data into the United States could easily do so from anywhere in the world via an encrypted e-mail, he added.

"There have been a number of reports from advocacy organizations, Muslim advocates, describing people clearly targeted because of religion and race," Calabrese said. "We take it too much for granted in this country sometimes, that when we're talking about security it's OK to do nudge-and-wink racial profiling. But it's not, and it doesn't have security value."

Customs and Border Protection searched approximately 1,000 laptops between Oct. 1, 2008, and Aug. 11, 2009, 46 of them in-depth.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.