Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Privacy Government United States Politics

Senate Hearing On Laptop Seizures At US Border 526

suitablegirl writes "As we have discussed, Customs and Border Patrol is allowed to seize and download data from laptops or electronic devices of Americans returning from abroad. At a Senate hearing tomorrow, privacy advocates and industry groups will urge the lawmakers to take action to protect the data and privacy of Americans not guilty of anything besides wanting to go home."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Senate Hearing On Laptop Seizures At US Border

Comments Filter:
  • About time. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PitViper401 ( 619163 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:13AM (#23929509) Journal
    That policy is insane, I don't need them seeing all my files. And I don't just mean the music. I mean files I created, by myself, that I just feel are mine to show to whom I want.
    • Re:About time. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:28AM (#23929623) Journal

      That policy is insane,

      I don't need them seeing all my files. And I don't just mean the music. I mean files I created, by myself, that I just feel are mine to show to whom I want.
      Not your choice.
      If you take it or send it through the border, they can inspect it.
      This is not new. It predates The War on [noun/adjective/adverb/other]
      End of discussion.

      The issue here is not whether they can inspect your documents, but whether they can keep a copy of your electronic files. FTFA:

      "Opening my suitcase at the border is not the same as opening my laptop and making a permanent record of everything in it," he said.
      The difference is that one search is transitory in nature, while copying your hard drive is not.

      Electronics do not and should not have any protection above and beyond a paper document.
      That said, electronics should also not be treated any differently than a paper document.

      Again, the issues are:
      A) Should the government make a copy of electronic files crossing the border
      B) If they do, how will that data be handled

    • Re:About time. (Score:5, Informative)

      by PCMeister ( 837482 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:14AM (#23929955)
      While it's about time, I hope something substantial comes out of this hearing, and not some bullshit ' non-binding resolution '; as in suggesting that the Border Patrol honor the oath they took to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States". There has to be valid probable cause before having to be subjected to such search and seizures (ie. 4th Amendment anyone!?!)

      As a refresher, additional information can be found here [].

      4th Amendment: "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."

      Fortunately, I haven't been subjected to such seizures, but I've read enough horror stories from frequent travelers to warrant such a response.

      Good luck to us all...
  • by RenHoek ( 101570 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:18AM (#23929537) Homepage

    All nice and dandy, but please remember that the rest of us filthy foreigners who are coming for a friendly visit aren't directly guilty of anything in particular either. We'd like to keep our private stuff private as well..

    So please protect the data and privacy of us non-Americans as well.

    • That's something a terrorist would say!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 )

        If wanting privacy makes you a terrorist, then I'm a terrorist.

        Seriously. I like my privacy right that way. Private. I prefer privacy to security. I can rest more easily being called a terrorist than being called a coward. Because that's someone who gives up his privacy, his freedom and his free will for security: A coward.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I want to extend even that: it's not only about privacy, but also about business and trade secrets. People on business trips having to give up their laptops is simply unacceptable.

      • by tsm_sf ( 545316 )
        Um, trade secrets are the entire point of searches like these. There is no other logical reason to rifle through your files.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Oh? What about monitoring of political opponents? Tax fraud? Cell phone records and email of individuals for whom there just isn't enough evidence for a legitimate warrant? Cute college students that the border guard can plan to be at the same bar or party with? Stock tips from business travelers closing international deals?

          The potential for abuse is endless. Please don't limit your completely justified paranoia. Since there's no court order, and no clear judicial jurisdiction for this data, it will most ce

    • Yes, we should be more inclusive, but this is a very necessary step in the right direction, and I'd rather have this passed than add more to whatever law is proposed and have it stall.

      And before someone says that the issue will be buried and forgotten if only Americans are included, remember that there really is such a thing as gaining legislative momentum, as the current U.S. president has demonstrated. A smaller step in the right direction is still a good one.

    • All nice and dandy, but please remember that the rest of us filthy foreigners who are coming for a friendly visit aren't directly guilty of anything in particular either.

      There's a good reason why international tourism in the US is plummeting [] when a low US dollar means it should be increasing.

      Oh well, I guess the US economy is strong enough to withstand $94 Billion in lost spending.... oh wait!

    • by Frogbert ( 589961 ) <{frogbert} {at} {}> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:41AM (#23929723)

      I completely trashed any plans I had for ever visiting the US when I heard from my friends that not only were they fingerprinted when they flew into the US, they also had their retinas photographed.

      One wasn't even staying in the US, he just had to change planes so he could continue onto Mexico.

      Fuck that for a joke.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:43AM (#23929731)

      Haven't you figured out you're not welcome yet?

    • by Lars T. ( 470328 )
      Gee, if it were only those coming for a visit - they also check people who only transit through and don't (in the legal sense) enter the US.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        don't (in the legal sense) enter the US.

        I'm afraid the idea that you're in international territory until you've crossed passport control is a myth. Some countries decide to exclude parts of their airports from passport & border controls so those areas appear to be international territory.

        The US doesn't treat their airports like this & couldn't have a case like (for instance) Merhan Karimi Nasseri [].

        I'm guessing your country has laws similar to France, but guess what? There's a big world out there

    • by pembo13 ( 770295 )
      It sucks, but this is all predictable. And I wouldn't mind a good arguement on it, but I'll be short and say that we non Americans deserve what we get since US of A is primarily an immigrant nation, its power is/was given to it by other countries -- from power to knowledge. The people the citizens of the USA seem not to mind too much, so you might as well stay home and do your best to protect your homeland.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bartab ( 233395 )

      I'd, personally, be against any protections granted to filthy foreigners trying to enter our country. Showers should be required.

      Especially for Canadians.

  • by sodul ( 833177 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:26AM (#23929609) Homepage
    What about putting [] as a background picture, including for the login page.
    They might return the laptop to you right away ... or just burn it.
  • by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:33AM (#23929659)
    Recently Sweden's recent information tapping [] laws and this US take on labelling anything that has information as fair game to seize, copy and snoop one make for some creeping "big brother is watching you" wins.

    Actually, I wasn't aware that any and all printed matter was able to be seized or copied when crossing borders. The article implies that this has been done to allow the same level of access across all media types, but that means that customs can just jump in and copy my diary when I enter the US? Why do I feel like I skipped a page in this unfolding story?
  • Americans' rights (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VincenzoRomano ( 881055 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:39AM (#23929705) Homepage Journal
    Are not stronger than other country people's.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They are if you want to enter the country... Welcome to life, you have to obey the laws of the place you're visiting. Americans are still subject to British style libel laws while in England, Germans are subject to Thai drug laws while in Thailand, Danes are subject to Chinese censorship laws while in China, etc.

      If you don't agree with the laws of the place you want to visit, don't go... and if you don't think it should be easier for you to get back home than someone who doesn't live there, be sure to le
    • by trentblase ( 717954 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:07AM (#23930343)
      Inside the US, American's rights are stronger than those of non-Americans. For example, American's have the right to vote in US elections. This right is pretty much limited to American citizens. I think most people would agree that this policy makes sense. Such arguments apply to other rights as well. Although I do not support the searches in question, it is completely different to deny a foreigner access to the US than to deny a citizen the right to return to their family. If you want rights consummate with mine, I also expect you to assume the requisite duties: paying income tax (including income earned abroad), reporting for jury duty, etc.
  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @01:46AM (#23929761)

    First off, I just love this asshole:

    But travelers should not have an expectation of privacy when crossing the border, said Nathan Sales, a professor of law at George Mason University who also is scheduled to testify. He said that all information and possessions carried by individuals across the border such as documents or photo albums are fair game for search without reasonable suspicion and that the law doesn't provide an expectation of privacy just because information is stored digitally.

    "We ought to have a law that is technologically neutral," Sales said. "The amount of privacy shouldn't depend on the format, digital or analog." He noted that the 11 challenges to the legality of the laptop searches were made by convicted child pornographers.

    I hate to be vulgar, but what a fucking ass. Individuals have every right to expect that their documents and photo albums are not going to be searched and copied by agents at the border. I wholeheartedly agree with him that privacy should not depend on the format it is stored in. Of course I think we should actually have privacy regardless of whether the item is a physical item in your bag, or 1's and 0's in cyberspace.

    What a great argument he makes too, that just because it has been child pornographers that have been caught first, and are pioneering the very first challenges to these laws, that they must be wrong, and therefore the basis of the challenge is wrong too .

    Kind of reminds me of the douche bags that love to shutdown any arguments against DRM claiming that any opponents are clearly pirates.

    Swire said he plans to tell the subcommittee how laptop border searches are similar to the failed encryption policies of the 1990s. "The government policy violates good security practices," he said. "It asks for password and encryption keys, which people are trained to never reveal. It violates privacy, chills free speech and compromises business secrets."

    The travel association has informally studied the potential economic impact on business travelers. Gurley said lawyers carrying confidential client materials on their laptops or small business owners worried about the integrity of their business plans must make alternate arrangements such as purchasing another computer for travel and adjusting the way they transfer information.

    No kidding. I am glad somebody is bringing this up. This policy will just create a strain on the corporate wallet for both corporations in the US and abroad. It is simply unacceptable for corporations to allow sensitive data to be copied or viewed by any unauthorized individuals. That includes all governmental agencies too. That is what search warrants are for.

    I can see whole new lines of products designed to sanitize laptop hard drives before arriving at the border checkpoints and encrypted restore CD's that will bring a laptop back up on the corporate network and access to secure file systems.

    Oh wait, they already have products that meet US Department of Defense 5220.22-M, and other such standards. Only now corporations will be forced to use for border checkpoints to protect against their own government.

    For smaller businesses they will just have to send their laptop hard drives, and possibly their entire laptops through FedEx or UPS, or some other equivalent to bypass these insane policies.

    A good lock only keeps out honest people is a saying I have heard for quite a long time. Well this policy will catch nobody a few years from now, since everybody will know that border checkpoints are dangerous.

    Anybody else hear the terrorists (and other criminals) laughing hysterically? In fact, if one was so inclined to be a little more paranoid, you might think this is nothing do with catching criminals, but a new way to watch the American public and embarrass ourselves in front of the rest of the world.

    For fuck's sake people! Let's stop exporting Democracy and Freedom to the rest of the world and start producing and keeping a little more of it here locally.

  • by mdmkolbe ( 944892 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:12AM (#23929949)

    Since the signing of the Constitution, border agents (not TSA) have always had the right to search persons crossing the border. They don't need probable cause or even suspicion. I'm not saying it is right, but this is the law.

    Now if you want to change the law with respect to laptops, there are three key points. Ignore these and you won't win.

    1. You must establish that border agents should only be searching for actual contraband and not intelligence gathering or filling any other law enforcement role. (This point should be easy compared to the remaining ones, but it still might be hard.)
    2. You must establish that contraband couldn't be contained in the information on the laptop. (Hard to establish since it's not true as long as child porn is illegal.) In the alternate, establish that boarder agents shouldn't be responsible for finding information-based contraband. (Still a bit of a tough argument to make.)
    3. If you fail on the previous point, you could try to establish that while border agents can search laptops without cause, they shouldn't be allowed to seize the laptops without cause.

    This last point seems like it is the most likely to win, but it contains a hidden trap.

    • First they establish that seizure should be possible when information based contraband (e.g. child port) has definitely been found.
    • Then they draw an analogy between encrypted or password protected drives and the physical situation where someone tries to cross the border (let's say by car to avoid the TSA) with a steal safe. I'm not sure but I'd guess that if the person refuses to open the safe, then the border agents will either refuse entry, arrest the person or seize the safe. (For good reason, otherwise it would be a loophole big enough to drive a truck full of contraband through.)
    • Then they bring up the physical analogy to TruCrypt: someone crosses the border with a safe and shows the inside of the safe, but the agents think the safe has a hidden compartment. I'm not sure if currently they can seize in this case. It's probably a gray area (e.g. if the safe model is well known for having a hidden compartment, etc.).

    End result? Seizing laptops where nothing is encrypted and there is no contraband might stop, but searching laptops isn't going away any time soon and seizing laptops "with cause" will continue. It's just a question of how broadly we define "cause".

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:27AM (#23930047) Homepage Journal

    to write a malicious virus for the express purpose of screwing up any other computer that information gets on. Hell, one could feign ignorance and smake it look like the laptop just had a bad spyware infection that brought lots of crap to its knees.

    Thank you for giving us yet ANOTHER WEAKNESS TO FIX, USGOVT. We'll be sending you the bill in a month.

  • i don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i_b_don ( 1049110 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:41AM (#23930155)

    What's really the goal? why is this an issue? If the government is really looking for something specific in laptops there should be an automated process where they plug in a thumb drive on EVERYONE's laptop and sort through all your stuff, not some schmo rambling through your files who doesn't have a clue. That doesn't do squat and serves no meaningful purpose.

    Really, what the hell are they looking for? This almost seems like the government equivalent of a governmental Mt Everest. They do it "because they can". It seems to me the same as giving everyone a drug test as they cross the border and then arresting those who test positive.

    There's nothing that is getting "smuggled" across our border on laptops that isn't going across in 1000x more massive streams over the internet. The idea that the fear of terrorism is involved is simply ludicrous. What's the thought here, that someone was writing their terrorist memorandum in MS word while on the plane and the border agent is going to turn on the laptop and see it???

    This is mindbogglingly stupid.

    What the hell is the real motivation here?


  • by OMG ( 669971 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:45AM (#23930181)

    Let me assure you that I do know quite a few people who refrain from traveling to the USA for doing business nowadays. One, you are being treated like a criminal at the border, with the fingerprints reexported to the criminal database of your homeland, two, having all you data copied at the border is ... unthinkable.

    Now, if you won't do this to American citizens anymore, great. Does not help all the other business people from around the world.

    And lastly, if the Dollar wouldn't have this "all time low" right now, many people would not see a reason to spend their holidays in the USA either.

    You just don't be surprised when it hits you, please.

  • by zmollusc ( 763634 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:59AM (#23930289)

    Sir! Sir! Somebody copied a song on their computer to someone else's computer!

    ZOMFG! Quick, make some legislation that pisses on civil rights and prosecute the shit out of anyone copying files! Get Bill on the phone and have him write a load of restrictive crap into everybody's operating system. Copying Files Must Be Stopped!!

    Sir! Sir! Somebody took a computer with them when they left the country for a couple of hours!

    ZOMFG! Copy all his files! Distribute copies to all the many security agencies!

  • by rixster_uk ( 1216414 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @05:17AM (#23931235)
    Ladies and Gents - I am trying to collect incidents of security staff abuse (mainly at airports) in the vane hope that perhaps we can identify consistent transgressors of their authority and perhaps even send a message to the airlines that we are no longer going to give them our hard earned buckaroos if they don't put their (albeit indirectly employed) staff in line. I believe we can make a difference (as tacky as that sounds)

    If you have a story, please either put it on the site or email it to me at . The site address is [] . I apologise now for the rawness (I'm trialling django technology as well).

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI