It Came From the Chat: Are Searches and Seizures Unreasonable?
It's a question that's been raised by business travelers all over the country. A version of it surfaced in our chat on Feb. 11:
Arlington, VA - Searching my BlackBerry?: Why in the world should Customs have the right to search my BlackBerry and laptop files just because I am coming home from being in London on business? ... I have no problem -- at all -- with them fully searching my bags and person. But as I've seen first hand they seemingly have carte blanche to read my e-mails and personal files without a warrant. Some of this stuff is sensitive work materials on an encrypted laptop. But that doesn't matter to them. ... Frankly these Gestapo tactics sound like something we would find in a communist country.
When we published the above post, readers began weighing in almost immediately, many objecting vehemently to Arlington's treatment ("It is a blatant violation of our rights as Americans."). Later we received e-mails from travelers who defended searches by Customs and Border Protection: ("If you bring paper documents into the country, CPB is allowed to inspect them. ... to insure they aren't child pornography, or material meant to support criminal activity or terrorism. Why should documents brought across in electronic form be any different?")
Opinions on the searches may differ, but one thing's for certain: The chorus of complaints by travelers is growing. Some aren't aware that Customs has the right to seize laptops, cell phones, iPods and other electronic devices, and that Customs agents routinely ask for passwords and other information that will help them determine what information is contained on the device, some of it perhaps proprietary. Other travelers are demanding to know the government's criteria and parameters for conducting these searches.
It's the latter impulse that led to a lawsuit against the Dept. of Homeland Security filed on Feb. 7 by the Asian Law Caucus and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The suit [PDF], filed in a California District Court, seeks to force Customs and Border Protection (which is a division of the DHS) to disclose its "policies and procedures on the questioning, search, and inspection of travelers entering or returning to the United States at ports of entry." The suit alleges, in part, that border agents have begun inspecting everything from a traveler's handwritten notes to cell phone directories, and that "CBP officers have also opened travelers' laptop computers to examine their saved files and look at their stored browser information. Individuals who protest such questioning or searches have been told that they have no choice but to cooperate."
Civil liberties group charge that such practices constitute unreasonable searches and seizures, and therefore a violation of the Fourth Amendment, while others say that making its interrogation policies public would compromise the CBP's ability to identify potential terrorists.
Who's in the right? Who's in the wrong? And has anyone out there experienced a Customs search that might add to our knowledge on this issue?
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Chasmosaur | February 19, 2008 9:18 AM
Posted by: BxNY | February 19, 2008 1:46 PM
Posted by: Andy | February 19, 2008 7:01 PM
Posted by: rja112 | February 20, 2008 2:28 AM
Posted by: glad to be american | February 20, 2008 11:52 PM
Posted by: OmegaWolf747 | February 23, 2008 7:28 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.