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DHS Allowed To Take Laptops Indefinitely 1123

andy1307 writes with a Washington Post story giving details of Department of Homeland Security policies for border searches of laptops and other electronic devices (as well as papers). (We have been discussing border searches for a while now.) DHS says such procedures have long been in place but were "disclosed last month because of public interest in the matter," according to the article. Here is a link to the policy (PDF, 5 pages). "Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop 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, US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement... DHS officials said that the newly disclosed policies — which apply to anyone entering the country, including US citizens — are reasonable and necessary to prevent terrorism... The policies cover 'any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form,' including hard drives, flash drives, cell phones, 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..."'"
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DHS Allowed To Take Laptops Indefinitely

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  • Constitutional? (Score:4, Informative)

    by uberdave ( 526529 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:21AM (#24431063) Homepage
    I thought that you had the right to be secure in your papers and personal effects. Fourth ammendment, google tells me. I hope this raises a big enough stink to become an election issue. The DHS needs to be reigned in something fierce.
  • by rasmack ( 808487 ) <rasmusNO@SPAMmackeprang.com> on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:22AM (#24431067)

    Well, from TFA and the summary, yes. It applies to any electronic device able to store data. If you have devised a sneaky way of encrypting information into the phone book of your cell phone then they are allowed to detain it "for a reasonable period of time".

    Better find a new way to remember those passphrases and PIN codes...

  • Analog form? (Score:5, Informative)

    by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:22AM (#24431079)

    That includes BRAINS!

  • Re:The worst part (Score:3, Informative)

    by Takumi2501 ( 728347 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:25AM (#24431119)
    Steganography anyone?
  • by Notquitecajun ( 1073646 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:27AM (#24431167)
    The US government - and just about any government - has always retained the right to inspect anything entering its borders - citizenship notwithstanding. This is NOTHING new. It simply applies to laptops, now. It hasn't been a privacy issue for 200+ years, and NOW we're concerned about it.

    I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just trying to provide a little context. If you're going to complain about it, at least acknowledge a little bit of history here.
  • by Bartab ( 233395 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:29AM (#24431185)

    unreasonable searches and seizures

    Searches at the border are legally reasonable. This has been held for a very very long time.

    Since everybody loves Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_search_exception [wikipedia.org]

  • HR6702 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Oh no, it's Dixie ( 1332795 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:32AM (#24431223)

    H.R.6702: To impose requirements with regard to border searches of digital electronic devices and digital storage media, and for other purposes.

    Although the text hasn't been sent to the Library of Congress, HR6702 seems to be the kind of bill that would limit the power of the DHS to conduct unreasonable searches. Read the text of the bill in a few days when it becomes available, and write to your representative, etc etc. It's a shame it only has one co-sponsor.

  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld@gma ... com minus author> on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:33AM (#24431253) Homepage
    The Supreme Court's already said that at the border the border patrol can search whatever they want, without any requirement of reasonable suspicion. Hopefully the SCOTUS changes it mind and puts in at least some reasonable suspicion requirement (or at least the minimal "articulable suspicion" test they made for Terry v. Ohio), but at the moment its legal under current caselaw.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:34AM (#24431259)

    You have to be *in* the US for your rights to be in effect.

    No, remarkably, the 4th amendment says that the government cannot seize your papers. Is this the government? Check. Are these your papers? Check.

    Let me know when you find the part of the amendment that says "except outside of the US".

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:34AM (#24431261) Homepage

    Which is why you NEVER take that stuff past the government sanctioned thugs and criminals we have at the airports.

    Ship your laptop via UPS or Fedex to your destination, it's a lot cheaper to spend $125.00US to ship it next day air international than to replace it all when you get there because some DHS scumbag takes a shining to your laptop or wants to punish you because you dared question them.

    Honest citizens need to act like international spies.

  • by Bartab ( 233395 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:35AM (#24431271)

    That is NOT the argument, primarily because border crossings occur on this side of the border.

    To quote the fourth circuit court: The border search doctrine is justified by the longstanding right of the sovereign to protect itself.

  • by Bartab ( 233395 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:46AM (#24431431)

    No, it does not. There HAS to be probable cause first

    This is the hippy dippy part. The "probable cause" is "guy trying to cross the border". You are by definition able to be searched along with your possessions when attempting to cross the border. This is nothing new either.

    Only an actual strip search requires reasonable suspicion, and such suspicion is of a lower requirement than in other areas.

    Both the fourth and ninth has responded on this issue, recently and including searches of electronics equipment. Both found in favor of the gov't.

  • Not going back again (Score:2, Informative)

    by adamqaisar ( 1082367 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:56AM (#24431579) Homepage
    This is going to put me off visiting the US for a long time now. The last time I flew out, I was detained for almost 3 hours by DHS - and then did sh*t all, just kept me in a room and didn't ask a single question, only to then be told it was a matter of "national security" why I got detained and that I had to apply to have that reason given to me. 2 years later, I'm still waiting.

    Freakin' morons. I wouldn't trust them with some play-doh let alone my laptop and phone.

    Look foreign?
    Prepare to have your life sent back to the 1800's while the US government sifts through all your electronics to make sure you're not some America-bashing foreigner.
  • Re:The worst part (Score:5, Informative)

    by tinkerghost ( 944862 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @07:59AM (#24431645) Homepage

    I'm not even sure how likely an insurance company is to pay out for a claim of "it was confiscated and held indefinitely by the US government".

    They won't pay at all. All theft/loss policies have clauses regarding seizure by the government.

  • by chuckymonkey ( 1059244 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {notrub.d.selrahc}> on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:00AM (#24431663) Journal
    Kinda like what happened to me in the Army. They decided that they wanted to scan all of our personal laptops for porn and classified files and such so they made this little program that used keyword and metadata searches to see if you had anything. Well, I didn't particularly care for this and being who I am I took a picture of myself flipping off the camera and titled it wonderful things such as Fuck Me Hard, or Take it in the Butt you Whore, or some classified product names. Then I scattered 30,000 copies all over my hard drive, they thought that they had found the jackpot in me until they saw what it was. They also have to look at every file just in case, let me tell you they were not happy about this at all, however there was little they could do about it. Needless to say they never tried that bullshit with me again. What's really fun too is that I had all my porn on a hidden encrypted volume. DHS however may just keep your laptop forever and maybe charge you with obstruction of justice or something stupid like that.
  • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger&gmail,com> on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:08AM (#24431823)

    It's called the "border search exception" to the 4th amendment, and it has always been in place.

    Quoth the Wikipedia:

    The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security, is permitted to search travelers and their belongings at the American border without probable cause or a warrant. These searches are therefore exempted from the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.

    And according to the Yale Law Journal (Apr. 1968):

    Customs officials conducting border searches have always been exempt from the usual fourth amendment requirement that searches be based on probable cause.

    Since the border search statute was enacted in 1789, customs officials have been authorized to stop and examine any vehicle, person, or baggage arriving in the United States on suspicion that merchandise is concealed which is subject to duty or which cannot be legally imported into the United States.

  • it says (Score:4, Informative)

    by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:14AM (#24431931) Homepage Journal

    Since the border search statute was enacted in 1789, customs officials have been authorized to stop and examine any vehicle, person, or baggage arriving in the United States on suspicion that merchandise is concealed which is subject to duty or which cannot be legally imported into the United States.

    stop, and examine and ON suspicion. not confiscate WITHOUT suspicion.

  • Re:The worst part (Score:5, Informative)

    by fbjon ( 692006 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:21AM (#24432041) Homepage Journal
    No, it's far less than that, actually. This page [rumkin.com] says 109 bits of entropy, which sounds about right. More variation and larger character space would be better.
  • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:31AM (#24432197)

    Actually it HAS been tested in court, more specifically it came FROM court.
    It was an example used by the SCOTUS in a landmark trial in the late 1890's which led to the first ever reductions in absolute free speach in the US.

    I don't know the full details of the trial but there is a movie about it if you really want to find out. I do know that a landmark quote from the judgement (that endangering others would not be protected by the 1st) was "no possible reading of the first amendment could protect a person who shouts fire in a crowded theater-house."

    Hence I stick to yelling theater in crowded firehouses.

  • Re:The worst part (Score:4, Informative)

    by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:49AM (#24432513) Homepage

    MMV. My Chordite [russnelson.com] keyboard caused a neckless pinhead screener to react, shutting down security in Burlington VT and causing me and others to miss my flights. I was completely cooperative even though they're doing an unnecessary job (passengers will kill anybody attempting a hijack, and if the sole goal is to kill, there are many softer targets, e.g. any state fair).

  • Re:The worst part (Score:2, Informative)

    by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:50AM (#24432545)

    So what exactly are you trying to tell us? That there is no problem, because you did fly ONE SINGLE TIME and your possessions werent sized?
    Big fucking deal.

    Maybe they should get a medal because they didnt perform a full cavity search, too?

  • by Dunkirk ( 238653 ) <david@@@davidkrider...com> on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:57AM (#24432669) Homepage

    Have you not heard about the UK, where a judge has upheld the notion that a Muslim family dispute ought to be covered by Sharia, in addition to the normal UK legal system? Whether they do it by force or by subterfuge, "invading" is their goal, and they're already doing it. See also the publicly funded Muslim-based elementary schools in Detroit. Or how about the special exceptions made at an American university for school-funded foot baths for the Muslim facility? I ought to go all Wikipedia and cite my references, but if you've not heard about these things, then you're not paying attention.

  • Officers may not read or permit others to read correspondence contained in sealed letter class mail (the international equivalent of First Class) without an appropriate search warrant or consent. Only articles in the postal system are deemed "mail." Letters carried by individuals or private carriers such as DHL, UPS, or Federal Express, for example, are not considered to be mail, even if they are stamped, and thus are subject to a border search as provided in this policy.

    IANAL. Does this mean I could seal a flashdrive in a letter-class envelope, put a US Mail stamp on it, and they would need a court order to unseal it?

    In any case, it's an interesting clause in the regulations. Why is sealed mail treated with a higher standard of privacy than other forms of communication? Historical reasons only?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:04AM (#24432823)

    they accomplish very little

    Not if you're in the business of government.

    1. They get to spend money. Somehow, somewhere, they will get to spend money on this, just like everything else government does. Every little bit counts towards the end-goal of expanding the business of government.

    2. They acquire more power over the people, and perhaps most importantly, a precedent towards the next expansion of power and revenue. They know the game, and the game is simple: rolling the snowball down the hill.

    There's a reason why the US government of today dwarfs the US government of only 50, let alone 100 years ago, both in revenue and power over the people, and it's not because a continuous stream of new laws and new things to spend tax money on accomplishes very little.

    You're not in the business of government, are you?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:47AM (#24433703)

    The judges actually ruled that couples should have the option of having disputes arbitrated under Sharia law if BOTH parties agree to it, and they can STILL go back to the courts if either party doesn't like the final arbitration. Just like provisions for jewish couples under Talmudic law.

  • by PottedMeat ( 1158195 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:55AM (#24433843)
    And by active, I don't mean spending 2 hours waiting in line every four years just to push a button or parroting the nonsense heard on the mainstream "news" while standing by the water cooler or forwarding the latest "I'm pissed off about (blank)" spam email.

    From the New Hampshire consitution (1784):

    Article 10

    "Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind."

    It's not just that people don't talk like this any more but don't have the balls to act like it either (or are just too addicted to nonsense like American Idol). Being a good American means being responsible for your country; not bending over when an oppressive govt says to.

    Like to move to NH and get active? Try www.freestateproject.org

  • Re:The worst part (Score:2, Informative)

    by jdschulteis ( 689834 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:55AM (#24433845)
    No offense to your chord keyboard (it's actually rather interesting), but just add some 7-segment LEDs counting down and it would match the pop culture conception of a bomb very well. The name "Chordite" does not help in this respect.
  • Re:The worst part (Score:4, Informative)

    by petgiraffe ( 539721 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:09AM (#24434081)

    1. Don't you think your avg. terr'st would have some training, and fein co-operation vs. act like a pissed off asshole?


    And don't you think DHS knows this and would then disregard the attitude of the person in question?

    Are you kidding? There are very few people left in the world, even among TSA employees themselves, who think TSA is there for any reason other than theatrics. They know they're just there for show and they behave just like any other person who spends 8 hours a day doing a completely meaningless job: They're nice to people who are nice to them and they're dicks to people who aren't.

    If you want to have an easy time getting through screening just walk up with a smile on your face. Say, "Hello!" and act as though seeing the TSA agent has been the high-point of your day. If you can perfect this technique you'll not only enjoy less hassle at airports, but better service in restaurants, hotels, bars, retail stores, and well, pretty much everywhere you have to deal with other people.

  • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:26AM (#24434375) Homepage

    Have you not heard about the UK, where a judge has upheld the notion that a Muslim family dispute ought to be covered by Sharia, in addition to the normal UK legal system? Whether they do it by force or by subterfuge, "invading" is their goal, and they're already doing it. See also the publicly funded Muslim-based elementary schools in Detroit. Or how about the special exceptions made at an American university for school-funded foot baths for the Muslim facility? I ought to go all Wikipedia and cite my references, but if you've not heard about these things, then you're not paying attention.

    There is well-established precedent for allowing religious courts in the UK to act as arbitrators in family matters, by mutual consent of all parties. This is not about Islam taking over, and it is hysterical xenophobia to think it is.

    When we hear the word "Sharia," we jump to images of beatings and stonings, but it is, in fact, a very broad term which applies to the framework for jurisprudence derived from Islamic principles. The kind of Sharia which is allowed to arbitrate over certain matters in the UK is as far removed from stonings as a church picnic is from the Spanish Inquisition.

  • by geomon ( 78680 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:55AM (#24434851) Homepage Journal

    What most US citizens don't realize is that your 4th Amendment Rights - all of your Constitutional Rights - don't kick in until you are actually on US soil. That means you have to get through Customs first. So, legally, until you are released from Customs, you are not covered by the Constitutional protections many of you claim the DHS is violating.

    I know this is an Alice in Wonderland-esque parsing of the rules, but it is a fact. You are not *in* the US until Customs lets you pass. The alternative is to go back into the country where you are coming from (let's say, Canada), head to a US embassy (which is US soil), and then file a complaint about your treatment at the border. It isn't likely to get much traction, but at least once you are on the embassy compound grounds, you are a US citizen again with full Constitutional rights.

    Haven't you ever wondered how the Customs people are able to tear apart cars looking for drugs and illegal aliens without a court order?

  • Re:Good luck... (Score:2, Informative)

    by albee01 ( 1326563 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @11:00AM (#24434951)

    Imagine if the passphrase to your key was the contents of a large binary on your system. Anyone trying to break it would just see a prompt asking for a passphrase; they'd never expect to have to do something like 'cat /usr/bin/mplayer | decrypt somefile'. No, they'd just run 'decrypt somefile' and try to type something in when prompted 'Enter your passphrase: '. And good luck brute-forcing it; you it'll take forever to brute-force a passphrase that size (/usr/bin/mplayer on my system is 8195KB...good luck brute-forcing that).

    It's a good idea but impractical. What if the binary you selected is patched or updated?

    This wouldn't work for whole drive encryption either because accessing your passphrase would require decrypting the drive and your passphrase.

    This is a form of security by obscurity which is generally not a good thing.

  • Re:The worst part (Score:3, Informative)

    by hanwen ( 8589 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @11:35AM (#24435629) Homepage Journal

    You don't get it. The TSA is supposed to keep terrorists from boarding the plane. This article is about the custom officials who are trying to keep "terrorist information" out of the US.

    To experience this, you need to enter the US from a different country, and look sufficiently suspicious.

  • by RY ( 98479 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @11:45AM (#24435879) Homepage Journal

    "Border" searches include people who have not departed the U.S. Depending where you travel in the U.S. DHS still stops people and searches them for not leaving the country.

    Same thing happens between San Diego and L.A. there are DHS checkpoints on I-5 and I-15 which are 40 miles from the international border.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004364797_ferrypatrol22m.html [nwsource.com]
    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2008/07/02/immigration_checks_on_ferry_runs_irk_locals/ [boston.com]

    "A couple of months ago, the U.S. Border Patrol began occasional "spot checks" of every vehicle and passenger arriving in Anacortes off state ferries, the lifeline between these islands and the mainland. ... In the islands' coffee shops and the editorial pages of the local paper, then in a crowded, heated meeting last month, a number of people have complained that islanders are being unfairly treated and questioned, even though they haven't left the country and normally wouldn't be subject to such scrutiny. ... The Border Patrol responds that the stops are annoying but necessary, the cost of keeping the country safe. It maintains that a terrorist could easily use the same maze of waterways and islands here that for generations has harbored smugglers, rumrunners and drug dealers. ... San Juan Islanders are used to customs inspections in Anacortes if they take the ferry that comes from Sidney, B.C. Before now, though, they were never subjected to checks on domestic ferry runs.

    That changed in February, when federal agents started corralling everyone off domestic ferries into a fenced-off area in Anacortes and questioning them about their citizenship. It now happens once, maybe twice a week; no one has any way to know if they will be stopped."

    WELCOME TO AMERIKA, BTW nice I-phone.....

  • by ACMENEWSLLC ( 940904 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:07PM (#24437337) Homepage

    One of our cooperate laptops was detained by DHS indefinitely. I think they sold it on eBay. The hard drive wasn't re-formatted, so our admin software was still tracking it when it showed up at a truck stop thousands of miles away a few months later.

    We watched it move around the Eastern sea board for a while before our "remote wipe hard drive" task actually worked correclty.

    I wonder when we will get this one back?

    This is a violation of the 5th amendment;
    "..nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."


  • Mod parent up (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:51PM (#24444189)
    I think this deserves an Informative.

Do you suffer painful recrimination? -- Nancy Boxer, "Structured Programming with Come-froms"