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Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained At US Border: No Suspicion Required

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  • George Lessard
    Travelers Laptops May Be Detained At Border: No Suspicion Required Under DHS Policies (By Ellen Nakashima)
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2008
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      Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained At Border: No Suspicion Required Under
      DHS Policies (By Ellen Nakashima)



      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Friday, August 1, 2008; Page A01

      Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic
      device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without
      any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the
      Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

      Also, 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.

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

      DHS officials said the newly disclosed 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 disclosed last month because of public interest in
      the matter.


      The policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital
      or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, 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.' "

      Reasonable measures must be taken to protect business information and
      attorney-client privileged material, the policies say, but there is no
      specific mention of the handling of personal data such as medical and
      financial records.


      In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit 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:
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