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Examining the Search and Seizure of Electronics at Airports 699

Angus McKraken brings us a Washington Post story about how travelers are seeking more well-defined policies and rules about the search and seizure of electronic devices by U.S. Customs officials. The EFF has already taken legal action over similar concerns. We recently discussed the related issue of requiring people to disclose their passwords in order to search their private data. From the Post: "Maria Udy, a marketing executive with a global travel management firm in Bethesda, said her company laptop was seized by a federal agent as she was flying from Dulles International Airport to London in December 2006. Udy, a British citizen, said the agent told her he had 'a security concern' with her. 'I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,' she said. 'I was assured that my laptop would be given back to me in 10 or 15 days,' said Udy, who continues to fly into and out of the United States. She said the federal agent copied her log-on and password, and asked her to show him a recent document and how she gains access to Microsoft Word. She was asked to pull up her e-mail but could not because of lack of Internet access. With ACTE's help, she pressed for relief. More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation."
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Examining the Search and Seizure of Electronics at Airports

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  • Re:Proprietary data (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:13AM (#22369304)
    The chinese did it so it's ok for America to do it - Idiot
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:41AM (#22369472) Homepage
    I was going to say, I thought the rules were perfectly clear: You are searched like crazy if you're coming from the Middle East, North Africa, or South Asia, or your name is Mohammed or Hussein, or you look vaguely Muslim.

    Of course, DHS can't actually say those rules, so instead they give out some bull about "random selection".
  • when her .44 blew a hole through the perp and into the fuselage, causing a violent decompression
    Ahem... []
  • Re:2 options.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by jamar0303 ( 896820 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:48AM (#22369514)
    This can also be done with a normal PC and OSx86. My install will not boot into Mac OS without the install DVD in the drive. I do my work in Mac, put the DVD in my checked bag, then get on the plane. It'll boot straight into Windows without the disc, and since Windows can't read HFS+ it doesn't see the Mac partition.
  • Not checked baggage (Score:3, Informative)

    by localroger ( 258128 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @10:49AM (#22369516) Homepage
    You're strongly advised against that because you're also not allowed to lock your luggage any more, and the strong possibility of it getting stolen. Ship overnight insured, or just take your data on a key drive and use a computer that's already there when you land.
  • by matria ( 157464 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:12AM (#22369700)
    that's glycerine in hand lotion. Somebody is pulling somebody's finger here. [] []
  • Re:Decoy Data (Score:3, Informative)

    by ocbwilg ( 259828 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:19AM (#22369760)
    There's a simple fix to this. TrueCrypt supports hidden volumes. So you create a TrueCrypt encrypted volume, say of 2GB in size. Then you put a couple megabytes of data in it. Then you create the hidden volume within the encrypted volume, and put your real private data in there, using a different passphrase to encrypt the two volumes.

    Now when someone looks at your hard disk they see a single 2GB encrypted volume. They can get your password and decrypt that volume, but they can't see the second encrypted volume within the first. And because all of the data is encrypted you cannot tell the whitespace from encrypted data on the disk. It's pretty slick actually.

    I'd like to think that if I were confronted with this that I would tell the TSA agent to fuck off, then point out that anyone who wanted to get "contraband" material into or outside of the country wouldn't store it on their laptop to begin with. They'd put it on a memory stick that's hidden in their suitcase, or, more likely, keep in on a server outside of the US and access it remotely from a free WiFi AP at Panera. But once again we have security theatre at it's best.
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:23AM (#22369800)
    The procedure is this: they take your laptop and you don't get it back.
  • by MadMidnightBomber ( 894759 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:33AM (#22369870)
    UK international development minister Shahid Malik, was detained on the way back from a series of meetings in Washington on combatting terrorism. You really couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. ( [] )
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:58AM (#22370088)
    The screeners at Dulles are the rudest I've encountered anywhere. It's like they're pissed off about life. By contrast, the screeners at BWI up the road are fine.

    At the Dulles airport, they make crap up and just hassle you because they can. You feel like you're in East Germany in 1961.

    But what can you do?

    The unfortunately part is Dulles in the 60's and 70's was always a joy to fly in and out of. As recently as the late 90's I used to take my kids there to watch the planes take off and land. It was a fun way to kill a sunday afternoon.

    Now of course, Airports are beyond miserable.
  • by theophilosophilus ( 606876 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @12:01PM (#22370110) Homepage Journal
    Heres a good article [] from the IEEE Computer Society entitled "Setting Boundaries at Borders: Reconciling Laptop Searches and Privacy." The article discusses United States v. Arnold Federal [] and other precedent. Arnold, a federal district court opinion on a motion to suppress evidence, appears to have come out the right way. To add my own 2 cents, why would the fear of contraband be more intense at the border when the speed of information transfer on the internet has made such concerns all but irrelevant?
  • by $kr1p7_k177y ( 208396 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @12:50PM (#22370456)
    These same invasive procedures have been in place in Israel for years. If you're "Flagged" by Airport security, they confiscate your Laptop, Phone, and Camera, and proceed to copy all of the media. It's invasive and unjustified - Just an excuse to feed their intelligence machine.

    I guess that's just the cost of "democracy" in the Middle East.

  • by vmxeo ( 173325 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:23PM (#22370756) Homepage Journal
    You mean like this []? Or do you want to limit it just to data seizures?
  • by AHumbleOpinion ( 546848 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:29PM (#22370808) Homepage
    We care more about how you randomly invade countries without reason, how you try to enforce your local laws and policy on weaker nations, and things like that.

    Justifications may have needed some work in some cases but there is nothing random about US invasions, no lack of reasons. Popular reasons in reason history consisted of the spread of communism and shooting at us.

    Irag II: Saddam had WMD (used it on Kurdish villagers in the 80s). Was required to get rid of it (90s), but failed to do so under UN supervision or to properly document it so that the UN could verify after the fact. The US didn't want to take Saddam's word on it, and didn't trust in the UN's ability to discover the truth in the face of non-cooperation. Saddam wanted enemies to think that he may still have it, that would be a deterrent. His plan backfired. The truth of the matter is that no one really knew for sure until after the invasion and there were thousands of US boots on the ground going into every lab and palace. The fact that nothing was found, that the US got the unexpected answer, does not change the fact that short of such unfettered access we would have no answer. Saddam also had a tendency to shoot at US aircraft, not justification in itself but it does help to set a certain mood with regard to overall relations and level of trust.

    Afghanistan: The people behind 9/11 were here, and they were being protected by the government.

    Iraq I: They invaded Kuwait, were told to leave, and did not. Even the UN blessed this one.

    Grenada: Communists building a runway capable of handling long range Soviet bombers. The spread of communism was feared.

    South Vietnam: Communist North Vietnam fostering a civil war in the South, and invaded the South to a degree. The spread of communism was feared.

    South Korea: Communist North Korea invaded the south. The UN blessed this one. The US also feared the spread of communism.
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @01:46PM (#22370950)
    So long as it's under $10,000 US you're ok. If it's over 10k, you just have to declare it - fill out a form stating what business you're in, why you're carrying so much cash/cheques/bearer bonds etc, and exactly what you plan on doing with it/them, where you will be staying, etc. Then you get asked a couple questions by the customs officer, and that's it.

    If you DON'T declare it and they find out, then kiss it goodbye. You broke the law, so they take the money.
  • by Snowdog ( 3038 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @02:04PM (#22371158)
    As the article states and the TSA has noted on their blog [], the searches and confiscations are being conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection [], not the Transportation Security Administration [].

    (Not that that makes it right, but it helps to identify the correct culprit when complaining to the powers that be or even when just spreading the story.)
  • by Draknor ( 745036 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @02:47PM (#22371582) Homepage
    Justifications may have needed some work in some cases but there is nothing random about US invasions, no lack of reasons. Popular reasons in reason history consisted of the spread of communism and shooting at us.

    The problem with this argument / logic is that the United States (via its administrations & intelligence agencies) is guilty of even worse transgressions, so other countries have more than adequate justification for attacking us.

    Justification / rationalizations may sound good when pitching the story to popular media, but aren't good for long-term stability. "Eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind" - at some we've got to stop poking eyes out, even if we can justify it.

    Need some examples of US action that other countries could (have?) use for justification of military/terrorist action against the US? Check out this sobering list of CIA "secret mercenary armies" [].

  • by hal9000(jr) ( 316943 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @04:27PM (#22372486)
    I think you are overemotional and failing to recognize the classic armchair quarterbacking that you are engaging in.

    Duly noted. I get upset about the senseless loss of life. :-|

    However, since the start of the war, there have been numerous reports that the Administration misled the American people by inflating the threat. Here is a quote from one such source []. Administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile programs, beyond the intelligence failures noted above, by:
    • Treating nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as a single "WMD threat."
    • The conflation of three distinct threats, very different in the danger they pose, distorted the cost/benefit analysis of the war. (p. 52)
    • Insisting without evidence--yet treating as a given truth--that Saddam Hussein would give whatever WMD he possessed to terrorists. (p. 52)
    • Routinely dropping caveats, probabilities, and expressions of uncertainty present in intelligence assessments from public statements. (p. 53)
    • Misrepresenting inspectors' findings in ways that turned threats from minor to dire. (p. 53)
    Here are a bunch of other reports [] as well.
  • My Experience (Score:2, Informative)

    by Skythe ( 921438 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @06:39PM (#22373694)
    Australian citizen - went for a holiday in Bali with a friend and his family (who stayed at a different hotel). Australian customs on the way home said that they "needed to check my phone" to make sure it wasn't a stolen device etc etc. Found out later that they got my friend to go through every single one of his photos and i presume this is why i spent 30 minutes waiting for mine. They also opened up a sealed mouse that i bought over there with a USB Bluetooth dongle to check it. My friends laptop got confiscated for no apparent reason because they needed to check it (going to be sent back). His older brother (who was on an earlier flight)'s hard drive got confiscated for some porn on it. Anyway, nothing to add to the discussion except my experience over here.
  • by P1h3r1e3d13 ( 1158845 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @09:38PM (#22375008)
    From the TSA's blog ( []):

    TSA does not and will not confiscate laptops or other electronic devices at our checkpoints.... We will not ask for any password, access to any files or take the laptop from you for longer than it takes to determine if it contains a threat. Should anyone at a TSA checkpoint attempt to confiscate your laptop or gain your passwords or other information, please ask to see a supervisor or screening manager immediately.
    That's TSA policy folks.
  • Re:Nothing random (Score:2, Informative)

    by http ( 589131 ) on Sunday February 10, 2008 @11:54PM (#22375790) Homepage Journal
    This has to be said explicitly rather than hinted at. That's an idiotic statement.

    "It is rational to consider future enemy capabilities and try to preempt them."
    You might get upset at me for holding a different opinion than you, and you might figure out how to weild a knife and become my enemy; is rational that I cut off both your hands right now? That should preempt you. How about because I might learn how to build a neutron bomb (I already know the math, but not the construction techniques), you break my lathe (fashioned primitively in my backyard) before I even start?

    It wasn't preemption, it was murder. Operation Iraqi Freedom scanned a whole lot better than Largest Act of War Ever Even Counting What We Threw At Bin Laden. The decision to invade Iraq was made with the knowledge that the Iraqi standing army posed no serious threat to anyone. Period. Don't take my word for it, take Colin Powell's. []

    You bring up the weak Iraqi missile program, and then explain why it wouldn't have been needed to deliver `WMD'. Drop one letter grade right there. Perhaps you didn't know that the missle program existed mostly on the back of cocktail napkins after initial attempts to break the 150 km limit were discovered and destroyed, see []. But you completely forgot to mention that there were no WMD in Iraq at the time of the invasion, nor any long range missiles, and officials in both the White House and the Pentagon knew it.

  • by The Spoonman ( 634311 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @01:01PM (#22380434) Homepage
    Clinton didn't do anything about terrorist attacks while he was in office:

    I realize "facts" are the antithesis of the 'pub agenda, but your spin is so weak...

    1) the February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center

    Four followers of the Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman were captured, convicted of the World Trade Center bombing in March 1994, and sentenced to 240 years in prison each. The purported mastermind of the plot, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, was captured in 1995, convicted of the bombing in November 1997, and also sentenced to 240 years in prison. One additional suspect fled the U.S. and is believed to be living in Baghdad.

    2) the Khobar Towers attack

    the U.S. investigation was hampered by the refusal of Saudi officials to allow the FBI to question suspects. On 21 June 2001, just before the American statute of limitations would have expired, a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, indicted thirteen Saudis and an unidentified Lebanese chemist for the Khobar Towers bombing. The suspects remain in Saudi custody, beyond the reach of the American justice system. (Saudi Arabia has no extradition treaty with the U.S.)

    3) the August 7, 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania

    Four participants with ties to Osama bin Laden were captured, convicted in U.S. federal court, and sentenced to life in prison without parole in October 2001. Fourteen other suspects indicted in the case remain at large, and three more are fighting extradition in London.

    4) and the October 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole.

    No suspects have yet been arrested or indicted. The investigation has been hampered by the refusal of Yemini officials to allow FBI agents access to Yemeni nationals and other suspects in custody in Yemen.

    But, let's be clear: By December 21 the CIA had made a "preliminary judgment" that "al Qaeda appeared to have supported the attack," with no "definitive conclusion."

    In other words, with only days left in office, Clinton still didn't know who was responsible for the attack. It was left to the next bumbling president to follow through. And, as of yet, he has not. Also, under U.S. law, an attack against a military target does not meet the legal definition of terrorism.

    Bush, on the other hand, did react.

    Yes, he attacked a country that really wasn't involved and then attacked another country later that had even less to do with the attack. So, really, not the best points to be making. Oh, and where's Osama? Gee, Dubya made damn sure to clean up daddy's messes, but hasn't really done anything positive for his own country.

    at least when civilians are killed by the US military it is by accident and not on purpose unlike the cowards who attack the US.

    Oh, that's ok then. I'm sure all of those orphaned children over there will see it that way and maybe they WILL see us as liberators?!
  • by hamster_nz ( 656572 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @07:41PM (#22385286)
    In general, to "troll" means to allure, to fish, to entice or to bait - usually wanting to slam the other person.

    I can see two reasons why your post was a troll.

    1. Ones persons verifiable personal contact to an act of terrorism is not "utterly meaningless" - it is at least one datum.
    I guess if I were to call a fact that your school buddy lost a leg in 9/11 "utterly meaningless" I would be marked as a troll too.

    2. Regarding the media - I think from my post it was quite clear that I don't think that muslims are bad people, and I gather you don't follow Fox News... headlines line "KUWAIT CITY -- Valentine's Day is just three days away, but one Muslim politician is heading up a committee to make sure it goes completely ignored.". What sort of reporting is that???

    If I were to say something like "And what about those Christian American paediophile soldiers who pack-raped a 14 year old Iraq girl then shot her and her family in Mahmoudiya - those sons-of-a-b@#$h Americans are evil". That, my friend, is quite a worthy troll.

    Notice how the "those" in that sentence refers to the the five soldiers and is 100% true (assuming they have been . Notice how the "American" adjective seems to tar all Americans with the same brush. Do you disagree with me about those Americans being evil? If not, do you support murder and rape? That is the Fox News way... the American "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" School of making News.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer