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Federal Judge Limits DHS Laptop Border Searches 359

Declan McCullogh is reporting at CNET that a federal district court judge has rebuked the Department of Homeland Security, "which had claimed it can seize a traveler's laptop and search it six months later without warrant." As described in the article, DHS policies have been stacked against travelers entering the US, including citizens returning from abroad: "There's no requirement that they be returned to their owners after even six months or a year has passed, though supervisory approval is required if they're held for more than 15 days. The complete contents of a hard drive or memory card can be perused at length for evidence of lawbreaking of any kind, even if it's underpaying taxes or not paying parking tickets." This ruling does not address immediate searches at the border, but says that DHS cannot hold computers for indefinite searching, as in the case to hand, concerning a US citizen returning from a trip to Korea, whose laptop was seized and held for months before a search was even conducted on it.
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Federal Judge Limits DHS Laptop Border Searches

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  • Burned CDs (Score:2, Informative)

    by mederbil ( 1756400 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @03:22PM (#32526782)

    A computer engineer I worked with was going through the border and was apparently not allowed to have burned CDs of software on him. He just so happened to have a very stable version of XP he didn't want to get rid of. Solution: Stick it in the CD drive, put the battery somewhere and they won't take the time to check the drive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @03:26PM (#32526850)

    A country has ALWAYS had the right to fully inspect or seize ANYTHING coming in across its border!
    And that includes laptops. The rules haven't suddenly changed. You just noticed that you don't like the rules. And EVERY country has this right (whether or not they can enforce it is another matter).
    Customs officials ALWAYS had the right to search your bags. Now you have this magical Bag of Holding, your laptop, that can hold a God awful lot of things. They still get to search it. It is still just a bag, magical or not.
    It worked that way in medieval China. It worked that way in Imperial Spain. It worked that way in Colonial America. And it works that way now.
    This ruling doe snot fundamentally change that. It merely says you have to seize the laptop outright as contraband, hold the laptop for a reasonable amount of time (e.g., immediately, 15 days, etc.) to search for contraband, or let the laptop go.
    Again this is nothing new. Every country does this.[FN1]
    The EU is an odd case because they can't decide whether they want to be a bunch of small countries or a single big country. While I am guessing that customs stops no longer occur at interior country borders (e.g., France/Germany, much like intra-state borders NY/PA), the customs searchs still occur at the exterior country borders (i.e., from non-EU/EU, US to EU).

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot@NOsPam.hackish.org> on Thursday June 10, 2010 @03:38PM (#32526960)

    The U.S. is generally a country with some notion of property rights, though, so the police cannot arbitrarily seize and keep things if no law was violated, even at borders. They can search luggage entering the country, sure, but this case was about whether the police may keep a laptop for six months or longer without any sort of forfeiture proceeding or at least some sort of showing that the laptop was contraband under U.S. law and properly subject to confiscation.

  • by r_jensen11 ( 598210 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @03:49PM (#32527130)

    The complete contents of a hard drive or memory card can be perused at length for evidence of lawbreaking of any kind, even if it's underpaying taxes or not paying parking tickets.

    Holy balls, Batman! The DHS is like the CIA, FBI, ATF, and IRS all in one! What's that? You don't even need an associates degree to join? Great Scott!

  • Re:Burned CDs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @04:02PM (#32527270) Journal

    What rule? What a custom agent says is the rule. If you question it, or even hesitate [wikipedia.org], you earn a beat down and a felony conviction.

  • Re:Finally ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @04:19PM (#32527532) Journal

    The irony is that when Jefferson was faced with his own version of the Patriot Act (the 1790s Alien and Sedition Act), he did not immediately reach for the gun. Instead he advised the Member States refuse to enforce the law as unconstitutional, and then he organized the Democrats to take-back the Congress from the Federalists. The act was repealed in 1803.

    In contrast Obama RENEWED Bush's act. Hmmm. What we really need is this to kill the Patriot Act:

    The "Protect the 9th and 10th Amendments" Act.
    ----- Proposed Amendment XXVIII.
    Section 1. After a Bill has become Law, if one-half of the State legislatures declare the Law to be "unconstitutional" it shall be null and void. It shall be as if the Law never existed. ----- SECTION 2. The Supreme Court will have the authority to review cases, and as part of the ruling declare these cases constitutional or unconstitutional, however the decision by the States (section 1) shall be superior.

  • by jschottm ( 317343 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @04:22PM (#32527564)

    Please tell me how warrantless searches of computers are legitimate to begin with.

    It's called the Border Search Exception and it has a long history of being upheld by the Supreme Court. It has its roots in the acts of the First Congress in 1789. If you leave the country, you're subject to being searched upon return.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @04:28PM (#32527678) Journal
    When you are at the border you are no longer "in" the US. You are "between" countries. You have no rights.
  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @04:41PM (#32527916)

    Yes, they can. They do it all the time. Try traveling somewhere with a large amount of cash (even inside the country). If the cops find out, they'll seize the cash and let you go because they have nothing to charge you with. You don't get the cash back though.

    The US used to have a notion of property rights, embodied in the 4th Amendment, but that notion is long gone, and the 4th Amendment is now null and void.

  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @05:16PM (#32528388)

    Compared to what Lincoln and Wilson did, the Bush Administration was a minor league play.

    Hell, or what happened under Jackson.

    Indian Removal Act was far more damaging than anything Bush did or dreamed of doing.

  • by Peach Rings ( 1782482 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @05:50PM (#32528814) Homepage

    a requirement that I MUST buy health insurance

    Welcome to every developed country without anything remotely resembling a single exception. Universal health care is widely considered (in the actual world, not the US) a fundamental human right.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @05:55PM (#32528892) Homepage Journal

    Clinton signed CALEA, DMCA, and yet another copyright duration extension (whoever gets elected in 2012 will need to sign another one too, I think).

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @06:56PM (#32529608) Journal

    >>>There was nothing in the Constitution that allowed other races to vote until 1870

    But the U.S. Constitution is just ONE constitution of several. There were state constitutions as well, and the northern constitutions allowed "freemen" (blacks) to vote the same as whites. And for women: New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and a few others allowed female suffrage.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @07:19PM (#32529872) Journal

    >>>$15,000 a year for health care

    Bull. Shit. The Nationwide Company quoted high-deductible, catastrophic insurance for me. $140/month. I then negotiated the price downto $95, so that's only ~$1200 a year. Other than those living on the street, anybody could afford that. It's less than what most people spend for cable TV and cellphone. If money is tight, cancel the cable/cellphone and then you'll have the money to buy this same plan I am currently investigating.

    >>>1 in 6 American's are currently without health insurance

    Exaggerate much? The number the Democrats stated was 40 million from a scientifically inaccurate postcard study whose numbers are worthless. Or about 1 in 8.

    BUT even that number is not accurate. According to a *science study*, that figure included approximately 10 million people who are not Americans (i.e. they are intruders that entered illegally). Another 10 million don't have private insurance, but they ARE covered by existing government insurance (Medicare, SCHIP, SSI). And another 10 million are people like me who can afford insurance but simply choose not to, because we're young and healthy and don't need it.

    So the conclusion of this scientific study was that 7-8 million U.S. citizens are not currently covered, and cannot afford to buy coverage. That's only 1 in 39, not 1 in 6.

  • Lenin (Score:3, Informative)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <<falconsoaring_2000> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Friday June 11, 2010 @02:45AM (#32532418)

    >>>Obama hasn't instituted the killing of people politically opposed to him

    I don't recall Lenin doing that either, after the old dictatorship had been toppled, a new government had been instituted and peace achieved.

    Lenin achieved peace? And he didn't have those politically opposed to him killed? AHAH! He did neither. By decree Lenin established the Cheka [wikipedia.org] (secret police), the precursor to the KGB. The Cheka was run by Felix Dzerzhinsky [wikipedia.org] who was widely known as a large scale human rights violator. He routinely used torture and summary executions and conducted the Red Terror [wikipedia.org].


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