Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Government Privacy The Courts United States News Your Rights Online

Appeals Court Affirms Warrantless Computer Searches 390

suraj.sun writes with this excerpt from ComputerWorld: "Laptop computers and other digital devices carried into the US may be seized from travelers without a warrant and sent to a secondary site for forensic inspection, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last week. The ruling is the second in less than a year that allows the US government to conduct warrantless, offsite searches of digital devices seized at the country's borders. A federal court in Michigan last May issued a similar ruling in a case challenging the constitutionality of the warrantless seizure of a computer at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Several other courts, including the Ninth Circuit itself, have ruled that warrantless, suspicion-less searches of laptops and other digital devices can take place at US border locations."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Appeals Court Affirms Warrantless Computer Searches

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:12PM (#35759884)

    Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but before we all start quoting 1984...hasn't this kind of search always been legal in the United States?

    "That searches made at the border, pursuant to the longstanding right of the sovereign to protect itself by stopping and examining persons and property crossing into this country, are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border, should, by now, require no extended demonstration...Authorized by the First Congress (1789)"


  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:16PM (#35759944)

    Just have it shipped to your hotel before you arrive. Notify the hotel to expect a package and hold it for you and you shouldn't have a problem. Which, of course, just goes to show what a ridiculous piece of security theater the whole thing is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:23PM (#35760060)

    It gives no information.

    This does:


    Basically, 99% of Californians are considered to be living "on the border", which is crazy.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:03PM (#35760714) Homepage

    If you read TFA, the guy was a REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER in California according to TSA records. That gave them reason to believe he may have had contraband files on his PC, especially after they found many files were encrypted (another red flag). This wasn't some joe-blow they picked at random.

    I believe TFA makes it pretty clear that "the border search doctrine allows such actions even without reasonable suspicion or cause".

    So, the ruling says that despite the fact that "this wasn't some joe-blow they picked at random", it could be ... and it would be equally valid.

    Don't try to kid yourself that only when they have some suspicion or information ... it upholds the notion of suspicion-less searches. Meaning, anyone, any time, for no reason and without justification.

    Look past the fact that this particular guy was a sex offender ... the ruling does. The scope of this is far broader than just that.

  • by Golddess ( 1361003 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:05PM (#35760742)

    a) It's plausibly deniable due to how a Truecrypt volume masks itself

    I just wanted to point out that, while they cannot detect if a Truecrypt hidden partition exists on the system partition, they can tell that the system partition is encrypted with Truecrypt.

    http://www.truecrypt.org/docs/?s=plausible-deniability [truecrypt.org]

    also note that, for system encryption, the first drive track contains the (unencrypted) TrueCrypt Boot Loader, which can be easily identified as such

  • Well, kinda (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:06PM (#35760768)

    So border searches have always been legal. The Supreme Court has ruled before that you've no expectation of privacy at the border, and that nations have the right to secure their borders by searches. This has been pretty uncontroversial for a long time. However the thing is these searches were for security and for preventing smuggling and the like. So what they could do (and did) was check your bags, your car, etc for contraband and/or dangerous items. Then you were on your way.

    Well laptops are different and make two new problems:

    1) They are actually seizing them, with no evidence of anything wrong. In past searches they could look through your stuff for any reason or no reason at all, but if everything was fine, you went on your way. With laptops they claim the right to seize them, and hold them for an indefinite period. That is real different than a search. Imagine if at the border they took your bag and said "We are going to take this off to check. We won't tell you who gets to look at it or when you can have it back. We don't have any evidence there is anything wrong, but we are taking it anyhow."

    2) Computers are like journals, or other personal writings in many ways and those were not searched/copied at the border. So while they could go through your bag and look for drugs, they couldn't take your personal papers, copy them, and read through them. They weren't allowed to pry in to any and every detail of your life, just check for security reasons or smuggling reasons. You can see how a laptop, particularly one that has e-mail stored on it, would be very similar to personal papers.

    That's the issue here. Nobody is saying they can't have a look at the laptop to make sure it isn't a bomb, or hasn't had its innards removed and replaced with drugs. What they are saying is they shouldn't be able to take the laptop, hold on to it for an indefinite time, copy the data, hand it out to other federal agencies and not tell you who, and so on.

  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:21PM (#35760990) Homepage Journal

    This is the one to ram the point home!
    http://www.aclu.org/constitution-free-zone-map [aclu.org]

    live in the orange? then this story applies to you!

    they can search whatever the hell they want if you live there.

    no warrant

    no recourse

  • by zill ( 1690130 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @03:04PM (#35761528)
    Some dystopian states [slashdot.org] forces you to divulge the password. US doesn't have such draconian laws yet, but at the currently rate at which our civil liberties are getting eroded, I'd give it 10 more years. Or another Bush, whichever comes first.
  • by Devoidoid ( 1207090 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @03:11PM (#35761588)
    - Guy who took a leak by the side of the road?
  • by MarkGriz ( 520778 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @03:16PM (#35761646)

    "So if you are concerned about the potential of these searches, encryption may be a more practical way to feel safer."

    I'm sure an American Muslim traveling on business with his company's confidential data, encrypted to prevent corporate espionage, feels oh so safe and unlikely to be inconvenienced by a search.

  • by thoromyr ( 673646 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @03:22PM (#35761708)

    and don't forget the ever popular "Guy who peed outdoors"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2011 @03:43PM (#35761952)

    Considering the way the government is behaving today and the way the courts are acting, I don't think anything short of a Constitutional amendment is going to protect our property against unreasonable searches and seizures. But something like that would probably never get the 2/3 majority it would need in Congress.

    You mean something like:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Already there, they just ignore it.


In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.