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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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  • by infalliable ( 1239578 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:10AM (#24430891)
    Worst part is despite the searches and seizures, they accomplish very little. You inconvenience and step all over the rights of average, law-abiding citizens to give the impression of safety.
    • The worst part (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:11AM (#24430905) Homepage Journal

      What is even worse is that if you try to use encryption to maintain a level of privacy and security, that will just mean they'll keep it longer while they try to crack it.

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

        by link-error ( 143838 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:31AM (#24431219)

            Strong encryption with internet storage is the only way to go now I'm afraid.

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

        by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:43AM (#24431409) Journal

        The privacy violations are ridiculous, but at least we know about them and can take steps to avoid them - businesses providing 'clean' laptops and accessing data remotely over an encrypted connection, for instance. I don't for a second condone them looking through our data, but the fact is it's happening and that means we have to do our best to negate the effects.

        The fact that they can basically steal your laptop, phone and any other nice electronics you happen to carry, on the other hand, could potentially be rather costly. 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".

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:34AM (#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 YA_Python_dev ( 885173 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:41AM (#24431375) Journal

      Worst part is despite the searches and seizures, they accomplish very little. You inconvenience and step all over the rights of average, law-abiding citizens to give the impression of safety.

      It's not for nothing. They are not stupid, there's a very good reason for this: power. Information is power, and if they know about your data (it doesn't matter if it's something legal or not), they have power over you.

    • by Exanon ( 1277926 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:47AM (#24431449)
      A few other problems: I was going to go to this years DEFCON but because of the laptop checks and the registration requirement (notifying the government 3 weeks before coming to the country) I have canceled the trip. (No, I really don't have anything I am secretive about on my laptop).

      My story can be seen as a pitiful example. But I heard rumors from former colleagues at a company I used to work for that they have changed their security measures on corporate laptops when traveling to the US.
      It includes taking the laptop down to the IT department and having them make an image of the HDD, then it is replaced by a new one, the image is downloaded when on US soil. Probably through VPN or similar.

      The question that raises is the same that was raised in Sweden over the FRA-legislation: The possiblity of industrial espionage. So when both private and corporate trips might be canceled or postponed, doesn't that hurt the US economy?
    • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:22AM (#24432061)

      when you can't give REAL safety, you give a fake form of it.

      we have been calling this 'security theater'.

      the government FULLY KNOWS THIS. their immoral fuckwads but they aren't idiots.

      everyone up and down the food chain with anything over 100 as an iq knows that its 'all for show'. ALL OF IT.

      empty gestures impress little old ladies. little old ladies vote. the system self-continues.


    • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:11AM (#24432957) Homepage

      No it accomplishes a lot. It decimates USAs international tourism. Nobody I know has flown to holiday in the USA since 9/11. Your security bullshit makes the trip unenjoyable.
      Meanwhile Canadian hotel companies are doing well.

  • by thodi ( 37956 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:11AM (#24430901) Homepage

    This is crazy, people. Make sure you're not wearing any clothing with text on it, you might have to enter the USA naked.

  • by fudgefactor7 ( 581449 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:15AM (#24430939)

    Just because their little law says they can do it doesn't mean it doesn't run afoul of the Contitutional protections. Were this to be challenged, it would be killed pretty quickly: one cannot instigate such as this in the name of "terrorism" and not expect at least one challenge on "unreasonable search and seizure." You cannot fight global terrorism by turning the USA into a police-state. All that accomplishes is angering the populace....and you remember the last time Americans became angry with their government?...

    • by Erie Ed ( 1254426 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:20AM (#24431031)
      I bet over 2/3 of americans either a. don't know that this is going on or b. don't care. Even if people actually gave a damn we tend to not take any action.
      • by soast ( 690658 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:33AM (#24431255)
        The problem is the government has brainwashed the people. They want you to fear them by intimidating you with time in prison or financially. Most people think in the way 'if i goto prison i will lose my job and cant get another because i have a blemish on my record' that reason alone will stop 99% of the people for standing up to it. The other reason is who has the resources to fight it, rich people do but rich people have no worries.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:20AM (#24431043)

      and you remember the last time Americans became angry with their government?...

      They were beaten with clubs, battons and shot with riot rounds?


    • by niiler ( 716140 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:23AM (#24431085) Journal
      One would think that this goes against unreasonable search and seizure. The problem is that if you object to it, you need to have your device seized to have standing to bring it to trial. Then you need beaucoup bucks in order to see it through. If you consider the motivations that led to the unreasonable search and seizure protections vis-a-vis one's home, it seems that some of them may have been to protect one's personal papers and property. This rule is a blatant end-run around such Constitutional protections in letter and spirit. Because almost everyone now carries a large part of their life with them via cell-phone, laptop, or PDA, I would argue that taking such items is akin to the sort of disruption (financially and otherwise) that people would experience from home invasion by authorities. In many ways this can be even worse.
    • yes, except (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:32AM (#24431229) Journal

      The fact that this kind of rule may be unconstitutional means exactly nothing unless you can convince the judicial branch to rule it so, the executive branch to respect that ruling, and the legislative branch to bitchslap the executive if/when it refuses to behave.

      There's at least two items in the list that I won't be holding my breath for.

  • by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:15AM (#24430945)


    If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have to at least consider that it is a bird of the family anatidae (apologies to Douglas Adams)

    This is outrageous! and a 4th amendment violation.

    Hitler may have lost WWII, but the forces of fascism and totalitarianism are still fighting the war and are winning.

  • by WDot ( 1286728 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:16AM (#24430957) []

    I thought it was funny the first time I read it, it's scary that it may be more true now. )=
  • DHS IT (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:17AM (#24430971) Journal
    BOFH from DHS : I have an excellent way to reduce our IT spending...
  • by LoadWB ( 592248 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:17AM (#24430975) Journal

    Normally I would put together a verbose, and perhaps even eloquent, response to such information. But I can only think of two words.

    Bull shit.

    We are losing, people. We are losing our rights and there will be more to come. That our own personal property can be seized "to fight terrorism" on the terms presented is absolute, unadulterated, pure and uncut bull shit.

    • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) * on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:21AM (#24431057) Journal
      Well, you're being nice. The two words that popped into my mind were:


      Run while you can. If you think Obama's gonna make it all better, you're nuts. The whole imperial mess is rolling into a death spiral. Run while you can.


      • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:47AM (#24431451)

        Run while you can.

        In other words: Vote with your feet. While Europe and Canada certainly aren't free form this kind of bullshit, the USA proudly take the lead (and a pretty big one at that). If the conditions inside the USA are becoming unbearable, emigrate to a more friendly country. If enough of you do it you might form a noticable minority in your new country and get enough media attention to discourage local politicians from playing the control state card as well.

        If you consider leaving, now is a good time. Yes, the rest of the world is expensive because the Dollar is on its way to becoming toy money. That makes your leave an especially strong statement: "I'll start with much less money in my new country but I don't care as long as I get out of here."

        Just about the only thing that'd make most of the people consider something being amiss would be an emigration wave of people who are vocal about why they leave and who'd gladly choose a lower standard of living (if only temporary) over being subject to DHS and the like.

  • by Slashidiot ( 1179447 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:18AM (#24430991) Journal

    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...

    My god. I can understand that they think those policies are necessary, but nobody can believe that is reasonable.

    "We can take everything you own and keep it as long as we want. Only if we feel like it. We think this is a reasonable exchange, you get to enter the country, we get to steal your stuff"

  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:19AM (#24431005)

    "Yeah, you'll get your stuff back in, uh, fourty years. Sorry, rules are rules. And only if it doesn't get lost or misplaced until then."

    And when are they going to start confiscating pacemakers and hearing aids ? Last I've heard, these things can also store information in digital form.

  • Toilet paper... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jrister ( 922621 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:20AM (#24431033)

    Its nice that government agencies regard the Constitution as toilet paper.

    What they fail to realize is that all their power originates with that document, and in a way, it's like a contract between the government and the people. Since the government has decided to violate the terms (breach of contract), then maybe we should stop recognizing their authority, since they have chosen to invalidate that document that is the sole source of that authority?

  • by Shinary ( 971947 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:21AM (#24431051)
    You know, as an American I can say that I would gladly give up my "right" to security for this crap to just go away. Let the people protect themselves from the invisible enemy and force the government to focus on problems that really matter. Like the country's growing illiteracy rate, or the growing rate of obesity, or hey... how about the economy going to shit. Oh I forgot, we need those fat and stupid people working for the DHS at airports and other "high security" areas. They need jobs too. Homeland Security was just another huge mistake by the Bush administration that I hope will be corrected at some point in the near future. I love my country and all, but if the United States keeps following down this road, I am gone.
  • by honkycat ( 249849 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:21AM (#24431055) Homepage Journal

    Customs Deputy Commissioner Jayson P. Ahern said the efforts "do not infringe on Americans' privacy." In a statement submitted to Feingold for a June hearing on the issue, he noted that the executive branch has long had "plenary authority to conduct routine searches and seizures at the border without probable cause or a warrant" to prevent drugs and other contraband from entering the country.

    Perhaps it's just a poor characterization of his statements, but it appears that Mr. Ahern just doesn't get it. Regardless of what authority the executive branch has had, he needs a pretty damn strong argument as to why these efforts don't infringe on "Americans'" privacy. I can't think of any reasonable argument that they do not. Whether it's a *justified* infringement is a somewhat subtler question, but these powers are certainly subject to abuse. Further, even the obscenely few restrictions on preserving the data after the investigation is completed are little consolation in the face of the many stories of data mishandling by government entities. Mr. Ahern desperately needs to get a clue.

    Further, even as an American I take exception to the idea that it's only relevant for our government to protect "Americans'" privacy, as is implied by this quote. Again, it might be due to incomplete quoting, but I somehow doubt that. As a scientist who frequently works with international collaborators, it's really true that communities outside the U.S. are deciding to keep their business out of this country due to the ridiculous policies for entering. It's often just not worth the effort. Way to go, Executive Branch!!

  • Constitutional? (Score:4, Informative)

    by uberdave ( 526529 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:21AM (#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.
  • Analog form? (Score:5, Informative)

    by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:22AM (#24431079)

    That includes BRAINS!

  • by Valtor ( 34080 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:23AM (#24431083) Homepage

    The policies cover 'any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form

    My brain is a device that can record patterns in an analog form. If they want it, they'll have to get it over my dead body ;-)

  • by TomRK1089 ( 1270906 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:23AM (#24431093)
    What if your laptop contains trade secrets or the like? Wouldn't that constitute industrial espionage to decrypt said information? What if a DHS employee has a relative who competes in that field? I can only imagine the potential messes there.
    • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:26AM (#24431135)
      What if your laptop contains trade secrets or the like?

      Too bad.

      Wouldn't that constitute industrial espionage to decrypt said information?

      It's only illegal if you're not the government.

      What if a DHS employee has a relative who competes in that field?

      Good for him !

      I can only imagine the potential messes there.

      You misspelled "opportunities".

    • by AusIV ( 950840 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:56AM (#24431575)
      I've wondered about doctors and lawyers, who have federal laws that prohibit them from disclosing data about their clients. It appears that as soon as they try to cross the border with a laptop containing this information, the government only gives them the option of which law to break.

      When the government puts people in a position where there is no way to avoid breaking the law, we have a serious problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:24AM (#24431101)
    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote in an opinion piece published last month in USA Today that "Searches have uncovered violent jihadist materials as well as images of child pornography."
    Ah, the magic words!

    I reckon you could even implement gun control in the US, if you reported that peados were using guns!

  • by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:27AM (#24431163)
    FTA: "When a review is completed and no probable cause exists to keep the information, any copies of the data must be destroyed." If there is no probable cause in the first place, then how can they collect the information in the first place?
  • by Notquitecajun ( 1073646 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:27AM (#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.
  • I cannot think of a single example where I would want to move sensitive data on a laptop. I may live in a sheltered world but in that world we live in the era of the Internet. If for some reason I wanted to transfer sensitive data across any border, I would think ssh would provide superior security.

    Actually I can in a few minutes push quite a lot of encrypted data to four different countries. If I were physically where I wanted the data it would be even easier.

    I guess this is just another example of reductions in privacy that solve no problems what so ever...

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:29AM (#24431197) Homepage

    Sounds like a good way for DHS officials to get laptops, iPods, etc real cheap.

    Step 1: Find someone with a laptop, iPod, etc that you'd like to have.
    Step 2: Take it in the name of National Security.
    Step 3: Item "gets lost" and you have a new gadget.

    This is especially useful during the holidays. DHS officials can shop on the job. "Hey Frank, didn't you say your kid wanted one of those new iPods? Well look at this guy walking up now."

    I wonder what, if any, protections are in place to keep this from being abused. (Any more than giving someone the power to confiscate any item of yours for little to no reason and keep it indefinitely is an abuse of power from the start.)

  • Back in Europe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:31AM (#24431211)

    Back in Europe when strikingly similar measures were in place we used to call the implementers ``fucking Nazis``, then ``fucking Communists`` and we would often risk our life to escape and be able to live at the land of freedom, in the USA.
    Then we thought the Nazis were gone and then the Communists lost too... But have they?

  • by Ratbert42 ( 452340 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:33AM (#24431245)

    What we really need is a new Linux distro that's just Rickrolls, goatse and 2 Girls One Cup. "Wait, officer! Don't forget these DVDs here."

  • This is why (Score:4, Funny)

    by Sir_Real ( 179104 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:37AM (#24431289)

    I carry a 500gb passport of random useless data and encrypt it.

    That should keep someone busy for a few weeks.

  • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes@[ ] ['xms' in gap]> on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:43AM (#24431397)

    In the past, I haven't thought twice about taking electronics (laptop, mp3-player, palmtop) abroad. These regulations mean you basically can't count on crossing the border into the US with any of those, and would have to treat them as disposable. Instead of approaching Customs confident I've nothing to hide and won't be hassled beyond a cursory inspection, I'd have to have a backup plan for any data I want to use while in the US.

    One more reason not to travel to the US, I suppose.

  • by jotaeleemeese ( 303437 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:48AM (#24431467) Homepage Journal

    Vietnam didn't. I travelled there several times with my laptop and never had any issues.

    Can somebody give me a good reason why I should not continue my personal boycott against travel to the US?

    I would have to leave all my gadgetry behind at home. Absolutely appalling. It is not the fact that a seizure can happen, but that nonchalantly the authorities have the power to keep your stuff for as long as they please. Nice way to nick an iPod.

    I used to go to old U.S. of A. once a year, spending a reasonable amount of money each time (hotel, plain tickets, etc.) and a few times I took stop overs in the US in my way home when visiting my family, for which uncle Sam surely derived some money as well.

    I know nobody cares, but more and more people are *actively* avoiding the US when travelling.

    I went to Canada instead earlier this year, and the difference could have not been starker: I was granted a visa on arrival (I am Mexican, no bloody way that would ever happen in the US, even if I was coming from Europe, as I normally do), the people are friendly and although are losing soldiers to the Taliban more than what would be reasonable to expect, they are not idiotically paranoid.

    USians: when are you going to recover the essence of the goodness that your country promised when it was founded?

  • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:54AM (#24432633)

    Though I am in South Africa, not America.
    I was dating a girl in Brazil (I married her later) and my company had several major projects in Nigeria. So I had regular flights to both countries (and both are common drug routes around here). Add to this long hair and a liking for heavy-metal t-shirts - I ended up on a watch list (nobody would confirm this but it became pretty obvious).

    On my way out to see my girlfriend one time, I was searched on the plane (which they made late to do it) but my luggage was already in the hold and my hand luggage clean so they couldn't really finish the search.
    When I came back, I was arrested on site. My bags were searched and I had to explain almost every item. Not the easiest of those was a bottle of home-made spirit-vinegar I bought in a small country town in Brazil as a gift for my mother. Finally, convinced my luggage was clean (now I am already two hours late, my cellphone isn't charged and I cannot even contact my ride who is waiting outside the door for me) they decide I need to be X-rayed in case I swallowed condoms.

    So I wait. I finally convince the cop to at least let me talk to the person who is picking me up (my boss) - with him coming along, so three hours later my boss gets to find out why I didn't show (lucky for me - he was still there). We wait for another 2 hours. Meantime I am missing a major business deadline (which would end up costing me a small fortune) but me and my boss are talking shop about the various projects.
    Still the police who are supposed to take me to the state hospital for X-rays haven't shown up. Finally the border-cop (who has been hearing us talk all this time) says: "I'm gonna let you go - I'm sure you're clean now but we have to be sure and if I keep you any longer I'm going to start running risk of false arrest complaints."
    As he uncuffs me and I walk away I asked him: "So will you take my name OFF your watchlist now ?"
    Him: "Who said your name was on a watchlist ?"
    Me: "You picked me up at passport control by my name and face. You tried to search me on the way out as well. You kept me here for almost 5 hours while all the random screen cases were gone in 30 minutes, despite the fact that I was the only one who wasn't complaining and shouting at you for the annoyance and understood you are just doing your job. I know my regular flights include two well known drug routes over a three year period... you didn't have to SAY I'm on a watchlist - it's obvious."

    He didn't say anything. I dropped it after that, didn't feel like more hassle but I must tell you it was one of the most annoying experiences of my life.

    And the worst thing: planes always upset my stomach. I have no idea if this is because of the airline food or the airpressure but it does. Getting of that plane, the first thing I wanted to do was go to the little boys room for a little private meditation. I wasn't allowed to go to the loo (in case I flushed the evidence of swallowed drugs) - and I had to hold it in for five painful hours. I must tell you - many times during that wasted day I was tempted to just let it go, and leave them the mess to clean up.

  • by davide marney ( 231845 ) <davide,marney&netmedia,org> on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:59AM (#24432711) Journal

    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 geomon ( 78680 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @11:55AM (#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?

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.