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Bill To Add Accountability To Border Laptop Search 495

I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would add accountability to the DHS searches conducted upon the laptops of those crossing the border. Specifically, it would require the issue of receipts to those who had their property confiscated so that it could later be returned, would limit how long the DHS can keep laptops, would require them to keep the laptop's information secure, and would create a way to complain about abuse. Finally, the DHS would be required to keep track of how many searches were done and report the details to Congress. Rep. Sanchez also has also issued a statement about the proposed bill."
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Bill To Add Accountability To Border Laptop Search

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  • US Citizens only (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jevring ( 618916 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:15AM (#25037005) Homepage
    Her suggestion only applies to US citizens, though. What about the rest of us?
  • How is it now? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Elisanre ( 1108341 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:21AM (#25037055)
    Can one of the border plods spot a nice laptop and basically just take it? (refering to no receipt for confiscated goods) Claiming that your brand new Alienware laptop is missing would not be hard if there is no proof of confiscation.. can this realy be so?
  • by curmudgeon99 ( 1040054 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:21AM (#25037057)
    What a sensible and normal human response to this situation--Rep Sanchez is acting like a human being, ensuring that our rights are protected. This must mean that Sanchez is toast and will be voted out of office shortly. It always happens. Somebody in power sees the light and attempts to do the right thing. For their sins they are booted out of Washington. Just you watch... Her successor will favor total immunity for Customs.
  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:22AM (#25037063) Homepage

    I must be reading that wrong because it sounds like Congress doing something that makes sense. It's unfortunate that it takes legislation to get DHS to pull their collective head out of their butt. This should never have been a problem that needed solving.

  • Business trips (Score:3, Interesting)

    by _merlin ( 160982 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:32AM (#25037159) Homepage Journal

    Trust me - I don't want to visit the US. But working for a multi-national company, I may have to for business. The war on tourism (that has accompanied the war on terrorism) makes it a very unpleasant and scary experience.

  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:37AM (#25037211)

    It also sucks to be a place nobody will want to visit for business purposes, so, right back at you.

  • Re:no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jacquesm ( 154384 ) <j&ww,com> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:42AM (#25037239) Homepage

    correct, I already stopped going to the USA for business & pleasure both.

    I used to travel there three or four times every year, since Bush has come to power and the US went nuts it declined until a few years ago I stopped going completely after one border harassment incident too many.

    The US border guards are on par with some of the worst that I've seen on the east-west German and Polish borders when the Iron Curtain was still firmly in place.

    Funny how things come full circle...

  • by codeButcher ( 223668 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:46AM (#25037301)

    As a non-USian, I might be clueless, but wouldn't it be easier for congress to simply stop said department (an extension of the US government) snooping people's data? It's not as if child pron (as an example) will make a plane fall out of the sky or crash into a building. And if they have good reason to believe one carries such data, aren't the normal, legal routes (warrants etc.) sufficient?

    Seems this politico does not want the state to give up it's unlawfully usurped power over the population - just make it seem more palatable without needing any real action - DHS is a branch of government after all, and who else will the complaints go to than the government?

  • Re:its start (Score:4, Interesting)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:48AM (#25037321)
    Now all they need to do is curb fingerprinting of holiday-makers, pre-boarding name checking against inaccurate and ineffective no-fly blacklists, and the general criminal treatment of anybody without a US passport, currently with little more rights than cattle outside the border, who wants to spend THEIR money on YOUR culture.

    I use the term "culture" loosely. (If that gets me a troll mod, so be it.)
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @08:53AM (#25037367) Journal
    but they want to replace her with somebody who wants to take away their rights rather than limit the government's power?

    Nothing tinfoil-hat about it. Most people simply count as idiots and should not have the right to vote.

    I can't find the link at the moment, but a few years ago a group of (Stanford?) students caused quite a furor over a mock petition drive to revoke a few dangerous "new" laws "recently" passed - The US Bill of Rights reworded into plain English. They had around a 70% positive response rate (ie, people who supported revoking the Bill of Rights).

    Most people don't want freedom. They want TV and McDonalds.
  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:2, Interesting)

    by neuromanc3r ( 1119631 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @09:00AM (#25037445)

    Non-citizens in the US don't have anywhere the same legal protections as citizens. This is to be expected in ANY country that you visit where you are not a citizen.

    Seriously? I can't think of any examples of democratic countries with working legal systems that don't protect visitors. Can you give any examples (other than the US) of legal systems that treat tourists and business visitors like shit?

  • Re:no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @09:13AM (#25037617)

    Ever since people have been treated like criminals upon entering the country I decided I would never go to the US, not even if my job demanded it.

    My job does demand it ... and I am increasingly thinking it's time to start looking for new employment.

  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CaptainZapp ( 182233 ) * on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @09:22AM (#25037717) Homepage
    Great advice, thank you.

    I got the message loud and clear in 2002 (that was before the fingerprinting started) and haven't visited the US since (that's after about 20 previous visits, on which I parted with a significant amount of my tourist Euros).

    While, depending on the airport, immigration to the US was never fun (hello! Miami) the whole affair got absolutely loathsome after DHS called the shots.

    As a matter of fact I even refuse to transfer plains to a third country through the US, since you don't need to collect your bags and go through immigration and customs in transit on just about any European hub.

    To conclude: I got the message loud and clear and here's hoping you're having a nice, slightly fascistic police state that makes all of you feel right at home.

    Just to be clear: I'm not pissing on USians here. But what this administartion pulled off with a disregard of the most basic human rights (hello Mr. Torture President) is so depicable, that I for one certainly don't want anything of it.

  • Re:I understand... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by srussia ( 884021 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @09:26AM (#25037759)

    And you can even transport data over the internet without being checked. Funny.

    Cough... Room 641A... cough...

  • Re:Woohoo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Skrynesaver ( 994435 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @09:27AM (#25037765) Homepage
    That's one that, as an outsider, has always puzzled me. How can a bill be amended to address several unrelated things, I've seen it before in US politics and it's baffling. Surely legislation is supposed to address a specific issue, rather than become a way of slandering each other at election time and further enrich your legal class as they attempt to untangle the relevance from the pork?.

    Disclaimers: I an not a US citizen but I'm married to a US citizen living in Europe.
    I'm not trying to troll here, this genuinely puzzles me.

  • Re:no (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hereisnowhy ( 710189 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @09:28AM (#25037783)
    Is there any data about what percentage of passengers actually have their laptops searched? Even anecdotal data from recent months? Are they making an issue out of things like downloaded mp3s, movies, and software?
  • Re:no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jacquesm ( 154384 ) <j&ww,com> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @09:42AM (#25037977) Homepage

    Well, this is only anecdotal evidence, but I've had:

    - my shoes confiscated (steel toes)
    - my laptop and removable drive booted and searched
    - my camera searched (and unfortunately it had a very large flash card in it so that took a while)
    - my fingerprint taken as if I'm some common criminal (as opposed to a classy criminal)
    - my mugshot taken
    - missed my connecting flight

    All this in Miami on a fucking stopover for an Amsterdam to Panama City flight, in other words I was not even planning to visit the states on that particular trip

    So, that's it for me, no more US of A, I'll see you guys on the flip side of the revolution, if it happens in my lifetime I'll be happy but I'm not holding my breath for it.

    If that's the face you want to present to the outside world then I wish you good luck.

    For the record, I've been a pretty outspoken critic of the Iraq war, both in private emails as well as in public writings, possibly that reason enough to 'flag' me. Makes you wonder about the kind of society America is becoming.

  • Re:no (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tuxgeek ( 872962 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:50AM (#25039017)

    I remember when the US was such a nice place too, before it was divided into the colors red and blue. I live in Alaska. Last year I traveled to Texas to visit family. Airport security there has gone full blown ape-shit gestapo. While going through a scanner, one of their security bitches jumped out in front of me menacingly as some sort of profiling response technique. I thought she was going to taze me or something. I felt soiled somehow. They profile everyone as a criminal now.
    Here I am, a middle aged, caucasian male, somewhat pudgy, salt & pepper hair, born in the USA type, with my papers in order, being profiled as a terrorist.

    Bush and the whole of the Republican party have gone off the deep end, full blown Hitler, Nazi party, 1984 Orwellian soceity, power hungry, insanity bullshit. For them it's all about control of the populace. Dictatorship without using the "D" word.

    The sad part of it all is that most of the population are ignorant dim witted hicks in cowboy hats. They buy into the rhetoric and spew dealt by bush and cheney, just like Hitler was able to do. These nut cases have gained such a foot hold that we may never be able to get rid of them and return to a sane form of government.

    Fortunately this year we have hope. A possible fork in the road. Which replacement leader will we pick? An intelligent black man with vision and common sense, or a plasticized facade of a woman model from Wasilla, fake and phony in every way. Oh yeah, and then there is that really old guy.

  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lobster Quadrille ( 965591 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @10:57AM (#25039135)

    Here's a probably dumb question.

    Is transoceanic travel by ship feasible anymore? I've always wanted to visit Australia, and have always hated airports, etc. Are there still ships you can do that on?

    Probably you can't avoid the customs bullshit in port either, but I'm wondering if they bother to search laptops and fingerprint everybody that floats in.

    Yeah, it's not really speedy or overly practical, but I'm the type that rides a motorcycle to Cabo, rather than taking a 2-hour flight.

  • by jonaskoelker ( 922170 ) <> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:10AM (#25039319)

    and if it's encrypted more than once, it's nearly impossible to decrypt.

    Oh, you mean with ROT26? ;)

    Or perhaps RSA? Let's see...

    Let n = pq, with e_1 * d_1 = e_2 * d_2 = 1 (mod phi(n)). Now let's encrypt m twice; we get (m^e_1)^e_2 = m^(e_1 * e_2); the decryption key is d = d_1 * d_2. This amounts to choosing d_1*d_2 randomly in a weird way, instead of just choosing d directly.

    Even worse, if you only apply one pair of keys, you get (m^e)^e = m^(e^2); you're restricting your keyspace to the quadratic residues modulo phi(n), which lowers your security.

    Depending on how you propose to encrypt everything twice, it may increase security, but I think the biggest increase will be from the fact that you are using an obscure, secret algorithm. I think your CPU time would be better spent on using a larger key; besides, who has the time to single out your anon-to-anon traffic and decrypt it (a highly non-trivial task), while there's tons of other encrypted traffic in the pipes?

  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mephistophyles ( 974697 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:23AM (#25039511)
    I agree it might have some effect, especially since people who live in academia tend to be rather idealistic.

    But, only speaking from personal experience, I've never had any problems.

    Sure if you can get over the increased presence and slightly longer wait at the airport due to checks nothing has even really changed.

    You are right that the climate might scare away a lot of your 'elite', but when you think about it, the US is still home to many of those 'elite' and the institutions that those of us wishing to become said 'elite' wish to visit. And THAT is the real reason people congregate in the US.

    I plan on doing my PhD in the US, these issues while granted are not the prefered status-quo are not enough to risk these kind of opportunities for my career. If I have to have my laptop searched, then so be it.

    Recap: I agree the situation as it stands is not going in the right direction, but the world's 'elite' still live and learn in the US, and that's unlikely to change. These 'elite' often BECOME US citizens, and although sad for the average joe or jose, these things are mad a simple as possible, because of the rare talents they have. The sheer imbalance in favor of the US can only be offset by a huge amount of talent and opportunity in another nation to rival it.
  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:4, Interesting)

    by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:27AM (#25039591)

    Most of the major cargo shipping companies also carry passengers. []

  • by Lucid 3ntr0py ( 1348103 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:29AM (#25039623)
    Aren't we the people that can make this a real hassle?

    I mean - I think any search without a warrant is def. unconstitutional and I don't care if it is for my safety. The most I can do when I drive is watch out around me, but that doesn't mean some asshole isn't going to sideswipe me cause they are on the phone. But don't say I can't talk on the phone when I drive because others are incompetent. Same thing with all this terrorism prevention bullshit.

    Look at DRM or any security measure enacted on a computer. This is always what I tell people: when groups of people get together they will always find a way to break the box. So why don't we make the box easy to break and then we don't have to search for the super complicated ways with which people are trying to break into the box? They will most likely choose the easiest methods which we will know cause we made the box

    But back to my original point. Someone here, who is a U.S. citizen, and works for a large company, put important and time sensitive data on your laptop. Then encrypt the shit out of it.

    But make it look somewhat suspicious, but not enough so it actually is suspicious (think suspicious like a sheriff in TN would think a black male in a BMW is weird).

    Then travel through customs, have them snag your laptop and watch them hold onto it for a long time trying to break your encryption.

    Get large corp to sue. Sometimes our litigation is worth it.
  • by turtleAJ ( 910000 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:32AM (#25039685)

    WHY are they confiscating the computers in the first place?

    Cause they're humans.

    Small-note: I have a friend that works for DHS.
    I hadn't talked with her in a long time, so when we met-up again, I found out she was working for DHS in the airport.
    Obviously, I asked her all sorts of questions.

    Her answers were really insightful:
    She says that although there are a ton of things that can send out a "flag", they do not normally do that because for each flag, they have to fill out a 3-page 'report'.

    So I asked her why the fuck they were such big assholes... and she basically said it's highschool all over.
    If they're bored, then they'll stop whomever for whatever fucking reason.
    If they have visits from higher-ups, they will also stop whomever for whatever reason.
    If one of them is "Super DHS Agent of the Month Tim", then all of them will act "Super DHS Agent" for that day.
    If they're having a slow day... or are particularly happy... they just don't care.

    She wasn't happy about it... yet, can you blame her?
    WTF... it's a job. And if Tim is netting 10 flags per hour (out-of-ass figure), then she should be doing at least 5.

    DHS sucks ass. Period.

  • It's a good thing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zancarius ( 414244 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:35AM (#25039725) Homepage Journal

    While some of my conservative peers may disagree as to the utility of the bill, it proposes wide-reaching accountability which can only help us all out.

    As a personal anecdote, I travel a lot between two cities in southern New Mexico. Between them is a border patrol point through which I must regularly cross. While most of the border guards are quite friendly and accommodating, I'll occasionally run into a few who are generally in a really foul mood. I've often been asked the usual questions (where are you coming from, where you are going, etc), but from time to time, they've asked me what I'm carrying in my backpack, why I'm carrying it, and so forth. I'm all for discouraging illegal activities, but spending a few minutes answering questions adds up over the course of a month or two! Of course, I don't expect that they'd confiscate my belongings, but I would want some accountability if they did. Since I do need my laptop for working on various things between classes at university, going without it would certainly have real quantifiable repercussions.

    I also imagine that most of their questions are directed toward me because I don't look like someone who fits in well in this part of the country--I look European, not Spanish, and most caucasians in this region tend to have darker features, are ranchers (easily identifiable as such), military, or are Germans assigned here with the German air force. As such, I've always figured it was a matter of time until they wind up grabbing a hold of my laptop via random search. Since I write short stories from time to time and have an assortment of partial manuscripts (on an encrypted partition, but who's to say they wouldn't force me to release the password?), I've always been mildly concerned that seizure of my laptop could result in someone who might be less ethical than most obtaining my copyrighted work and illegally distributing it. Yes, I've heard the argument that if I don't want to lose something, don't carry it on my laptop, but that's largely impractical and precisely what encrypting a partition is intended to discourage: petty theft. Thieves who had the means available to break such encryption are probably uninterested in lowly manuscripts and more interested in corporate data or information pertaining to national security. But law enforcement, on the other hand, could potentially force me to divulge such passwords! Perhaps someone who is more familiar with law pertaining to such search and seizures could offer some advice in this particular case.

    Considering lost time, productivity, and somewhat valuable materials, it's a bit upsetting that average citizens in this nation have to worry about such ridiculous things. If someone working under law enforcement were to steal data of mine for his or her own benefit, you bet I'd want accountability! I'm sure that sort of accountability does already exist through established channels, but how are you to know that an unscrupulous individual didn't steal something from your computer for his own personal gains (software, mp3s, personal data)? The only downside I see to this bill is that it doesn't highlight an effective method of accountability and detection of theft, such as requiring multiple personnel to be present when examining data to ensure no such theft occurs. That alone could create an additional check and balance within the system.

  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Heian-794 ( 834234 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:04PM (#25040145) Homepage

    I know Japan is pretty much the opposite! Foreigners have pretty much all the basic rights as citizens, and the people there will generally bend over backwards to help you(searching the entire building for someone who speaks English, etc).

    I really must disagree (and please forgive the long reply; this stuff needs to be said). People bending over backwards to find an English speaker? That's called "hospitality", and has nothing -- really, nothing -- to do with one's legal rights or legal protection from authorities.

    "Pretty much all the basic rights"? Japan and the USA are neck-and-neck in paranoia.

    Only the USA and Japan (so far) fingerprint any non-citizen crossing the border, and in Japan it's not just when you first enter -- you're fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned every time. Businesspeople are already turning away from Japan just as they are from the US.

    In the USA, green card holders are expected to carry that card around with them, but (so far) only immigration officials have the right to demand to see it. In Japan, non-citizens must carry Alien Registration Cards at all times, and police officers (there are little police boxes every few blocks on the streets!) can demand to see them basically whenever they like. Lose your wallet on the train? Technically, you're a criminal! (Now try not to get picked up for anything -- unlike in the US, there's no bail for non-citizens! Somehow, despite the nation being an island country and there being fingerprint checks at the border, all non-Japanese are flight risks.)

    In addition, these alien cards contain more than enough information, right there in plain text, to make identity theft a snap. I don't know about most people, but I prefer not to have to carry a little card with my full name, birthdate, home address, work address, place of birth, residence in home country, and foreign passport number printed on it. Any business who has a copy of this card then gets all that private info.

    (Thought experiment: How many prudent-minded citizens would write all this personal information in one place and carry it wherever they go?)

    In the US, banks and financial institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of national origin (among many other things)l in Japan, if you're a non-citizen, you'll have a very hard time getting a home mortgage, and credit in general. Illegal immigrants in the USA can borrow money easier than legal ones can in Japan!

    Japan got a free pass on this stuff in the old days because neighboring China was (and is) worse, and now they get a pass again because of George Bush and the US. They deserve to be called on it just as much as their paranoiac rival across the Pacific does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:32PM (#25040603)

    (Posting AC; haven't logged into /. in a long time.)

    A law textbook in "Cybercrime" discussed cases relevant here. The courts have held that because border security is so important, all searches are "reasonable" at the border and so the 4th Amendment provides zero protection there. Related court reasoning held that there should be no difference between searching a package carried on a traveler and searching the same package if it's being mailed.

    The courts also held that the searches don't necessarily need to be done right at the border; eg. searching an airplane can be done at an airport. What I gather from that logic is that the federal government claims the authority to search not just laptops at the border, but any Internet traffic passing through the border or that might cross the border, possibly at the ISP level. Don't jump on the Bush-bashing bandwagon; this is more a symptom of the much larger problem of the courts abandoning the Constitution.

  • by Falstius ( 963333 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @01:08PM (#25041191)

    It varies considerably with port, mood of the border agent, and your perceived ethnic group.

  • Re:no (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @01:38PM (#25041799)

    If you're going to Panama city - you go by KLM (flies direct from Amsterdam). You can also go direct with Iberia over Madrid.

    As there are more and more people who are unwilling or unable to transfer through the US, more and more direct flights are becoming available.

    I *never* transfer in the US when going from Europe to America... stopped doing it when the US turned itself into some pseudo-fascist country.
    If it ever changes back to the "land of the free" again, then I'll start going again. Unfortunately, I can only see the situation getting worse...

  • Re:US Citizens only (Score:2, Interesting)

    by slashdotlurker ( 1113853 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @01:48PM (#25041995)
    Before I say anything on this matter, I would like to point out that I am NOT comparing our government to the Nazis.
    However, in the 1930s, a lot of German and other central European scientists (mainly Jews) left their countries and moved to the US. The US, until early 1930's did not have too many Noble Laureates. It did not even have too many top schools (comparisons between Harvard and Gottingen (to pick just one example)) were laughable. Hitler changed all that. The cream of German talent moved to the US. They powered the Manhattan project, and then the space program. A second wave of German emigres came to the US via CIA's programs targetting German Nazi scientists. Von Braun, the father of the Apollo program designed German V1 and V2 rockets during the war (just an example).
    The situation is very different in the US today. However, the academics you somewhat mock as being idealists are what I consider to be the canaries in a coal mine. If their laptops are being confiscated on re-entry to the US after visiting Mexico or Europe or East Asia for a conference, they are not going to simply sit by and twiddle their thumbs. After a misspent youth travelling all over the world (mainly the middle east and India), I am exposed to these people on a regular basis. A few that I know are already making plans to move to Canada or in one or two cases, even South Korea. It does not help that the funding for physical sciences has been cut almost every year for the past 5-6 years. They are finding it harder to get research funding and have to put up with this bullshit everytime they re-enter the country. One of chief rising stars in a field that a friend of mine works on, who is of Indian descent (US born, father from India, mother American) was recently stopped in New York and put through the third degree just because he had bought his air tickets only a week before travelling to Italy for a conference and he had made a last time quick visit to his father's family in India.
    You piss people off in this fashion and they will ultimately decide staying is not worth it. Add Bush's well-known hostility to science, and the fact that McCain is currently favored to be the next President with a running mate who is a creationist, these are not very happy times among the "elite" you mock. Initially, those of foreign descent will leave (and if you have been paying any attention, that is a majority of our recent science and engineering faculty hires), and then native born Americans will follow suit. Its not as if the rest of the world lives in mud huts. Canada, Europe, China, Russia, South Korea, India etc. all have made major investments into their science programs while we have been revisiting the theory of evolution in this country.
    The other issue is the supply of good graduate students. I am the only American graduate student in my division here. Majority are Indians, Chinese and Koreans, with a fair smattering of East Europeans and Canadians. If this incoming stream dries up (and it already is down in relative terms since 9-11 among every nationality except Indians and East Europeans), who do you think is going to really work in these labs ? American Idol addled local kids who think that deciding what car to buy is the hardest decision at 16 ? I fear for our country. We are sinking and nearly half our country is far too stupid to realize it.
    PS: No, I am not voting for Sen. Obama since his FISA surrender.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes