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US Federal Judge Rules Suspicionless Border Searches of Laptops Constitutional 462

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the i've-got-an-inchoate-hunch dept.
AHuxley writes "The American Civil Liberties Union sought to challenge the U.S. legal 'border exemption' three years ago. Can your laptop be seized and searched without reasonable suspicion at the border? A 32 page decision provides new legal insight into legal thinking around suspicionless searches: your electronic devices are searchable and seizable for any reason at the U.S. border. The ACLU may appeal. Also note the Kool-Aid comment: 'The report said that a reasonable suspicion standard is inadvisable because it could lead to litigation and the forced divulgence of national security information, and would prevent border officers from acting on inchoate "hunches," a method that it says has sometimes proved fruitful.'" It's even legal for them to copy the contents of your laptop for no reason at all, just in case they need to take a peek later. A bit of context from the ACLU: "The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a dual French-American citizen who had his laptop searched and confiscated at the Canadian border ... Abidor was travelling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in May 2010 when he had his laptop searched and confiscated by customs officers. Abidor, an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student at McGill University, was questioned, taken off the train in handcuffs, and held in a cell for several hours before being released without charge. When his laptop was returned 11 days later, there was evidence that many of his personal files had been searched, including photos and chats with his girlfriend."
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US Federal Judge Rules Suspicionless Border Searches of Laptops Constitutional

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  • Re:logic... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @10:38AM (#45836671)

    If I have a briefcase full of papers at the border can that be searched without warrant or suspicion?

    Unless you have a diplomatic passport, then yes, your briefcase can be searched at the border for any reason or for no reason.

  • Re:logic... (Score:5, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @10:45AM (#45836705)

    Yes it can be searched.

    The search standards at border crossings are very loose. It's been that way since 1789. The Constitution is high on defense of the nation, and tariffs were the first taxes. Obviously you cannot defend the borders or impose tariffs without being able to search at border crossings.

    The Congress shall have power:

    To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

    "Exhibit A in the Supreme Courtâ(TM)s case for border searches is a statute Congress enacted in 1789, which granted customs officials âoefull power and authorityâ to search âoeany ship or vessel, in which they shall have reason to suspect any goods, wares or merchandise subject to duty shall be concealed"

    from: http://lawreview.richmond.edu/run-for-the-border/ [richmond.edu]

    This statute actually PREDATES the adoption of the Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution by two months.

  • by kcmastrpc (2818817) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:04AM (#45836797)

    "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

    Anonymous Drug Addict

    FTFY.

    Well, it certainly wasn't Albert Einstein. The quote first appeared in print in 1983 (in a book by Rita Mae Brown [wikipedia.org]), when Albert Einstein had already been dead for 28 years.

    It wasn't Rita Mae Brown either, it first appeared in the Narcotics Anonymous handbook in 1981.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Rita_Mae_Brown [wikiquote.org]

  • Re: TrueCrypt (Score:4, Informative)

    by mellon (7048) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:47AM (#45837079) Homepage

    If you want to be safe from unreasonable searches of your personal data while crossing borders, keep no data (none!) on your computer when you cross borders. Anything you need, keep somewhere where you can download it using a memorized password once you're in a place where you feel you have some reason to assume you won't be searched again. When you need to re-cross the border, erase the data again. Don't even keep passwords on your computer. If there's no data on your computer, then they won't be in a position to ask you for your password.

    Of course, the police can always stop you, and the border patrol can always demand to search your computer if they stop you within 100 miles of the border (claims the administration) so you're still not out of the woods once you're on the other side of the border, but unless they are specifically targeting you, you're unlikely to be further searched. Realistically, if they aren't targeting you they aren't going to search your devices when you cross the border either, but you never know.

    Probably the most important takeaway from this story is that if you are doing anything related to Islam or the study of Islam, you should not advertise that in any way that can be found by googling you. By restraining your freedom of speech voluntarily, you can avoid being punished for thoughtcrime.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @12:01PM (#45837167) Homepage

    In addition, it's worth mentioning that the US currently defines its "border" as anything within 100 miles of any land or sea border, or any international airport. As a matter of standing case law, it is legal for them to grab you in, say, San Francisco, and search your laptop, cell phone, person, papers, and effects, without providing any legal justification other than "You're in a border zone".

    And of course, Mr Abidor being a scholar of Islamic Studies had absolutely nothing to do with him being stopped, that was total coincidence.

    And what they're looking for isn't so much evidence of criminal activity as it is dirt on people, in case they need to protect America by blackmailing people like they did in COINTELPRO.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @12:52PM (#45837437)

    Also see ACLU : Constitution Free Zone [aclu.org] and watch this [youtube.com]

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @05:52PM (#45839857) Journal

    There have been plenty of posts here in Slashdot saying the exact opposite, so I would be curious about what is the truth.

    Why not go and read it [constitutionus.com]?

    The Constitution uses two terms: "people" (or "persons"), and "citizen". The word "citizen" is only used in articles dealing with political rights - namely, prerequisites for the offices of President, Senator and Representative, voting rights (per 15A, 19A, 24A and 26A), and the recognition of rights across states; and where it extends federal judicial authority to disputes involving non-citizens.

    All other rights are recognized as those of people or persons. In particular, 4A:

    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    The exemption that has been claimed for customs inspections (which is, indeed, almost as old as Constitution itself), has been applied uniformly to citizens and non-citizens alike - it is tied to a particular place where tradition dictates a search is always reasonable, and has nothing to do with one's status. Once you're past the border, they don't get to search you without a warrant just because you're a non-citizen. Other rights similarly apply. Heck, people have successfully argued Second Amendment rights for non-citizens...

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