Sunday, June 29, 2008

Electronic Search and Seziure at the Border

Ironkey secure flashdrive
Ironkey secure flashdrive.

What is this Fourth Amendment You Keep Talking About?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April, all your electronics belong to us.


Your laptop, your flash drive, your PDA, your iPod. Fourth Amendment? We don't need no stinking Fourth Amendment. We're the United States Customs. This is no-man's land, buddy-boy. We own your ass.

We can search you without reasonable cause or warrant. Strip-search you, x-ray you, and make you poop into a bowl.

As of April, Customs can take every electronic device you have.


Returning from a vacation to Germany in February, freelance journalist Bill Hogan was selected for additional screening by customs officials at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. Agents searched his luggage, he said, "then they told me that they were impounding my laptop."

Shaken by the encounter, Hogan examined his bags and found the agents had also inspected the memory card from his camera. "It was fortunate that I didn't use [the laptop] for work," he said, "or I would have had to call up all my sources and tell them that the government had just seized their information." When customs offered to return the computer nearly two weeks later, Hogan had it shipped to his lawyer.

How common Hogan's experience is remains unclear. But an April ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection, does have full authority to search any electronic devices without suspicion in the same way that it can inspect briefcases.

But congressional investigators say that copies of drives are sometimes made, meaning customs could be duplicating corporate secrets, legal and financial data, personal E-mails and photographs, along with stored passwords for accounts with companies ranging from Netflix to Bank of America.

The practice of storing and duplicating material might be something that both opponents and supporters of seizure could agree to regulate, says Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, an otherwise staunch supporter of customs' authority. Larry Cunningham, an assistant district attorney from New York, told the hearing: "I am aware of no authority that would permit the government, without probable cause to believe it contains contraband, to keep a person's laptop or to copy the contents of its files."

Customs insists that terrorism and child pornography are sufficient justification for electronics searches. And even civil libertarians agree it makes sense for customs to search luggage, which could pose immediate dangers to aircraft and passengers. But, says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, "customs officials do not go through briefcases to review and copy paper business records or personal diaries, which is apparently what they are now doing in digital form. These pda's don't have bombs in them."
Customs doesn't make copies of the files in your briefcase. For them to copy the files on your computer is to turn over one's life to the government.

“Stop! In the Name of Law” -- All crimes against the Constitution can be justified by The Four Horsemen of the Internet:
  • Terrorism
  • Drugs
  • Child Porn
  • Racism & Hatred
Rip the Bill of Rights up. We're making a safer world for the Children.

What can you do?

Take only a clean laptop and an encrypted flash drive through Customs. Be prepared to lose them forever. Send any data you care about over an encrypted channel before you cross the border.

Until the Judges currently on the Bench are replaced with ones who respect the Constitution -- a thirty year project, which will only come to pass once we have a progressive President elected, and guess what kids, Obama ain't him -- there isn't much we can ultimately do. A netroots caucus in Congress would help. Specific laws about this would help.

Ultimately what is needed is to shift the country back to a deep respect for the Constitution. Searching every electronic device, keeping them and rifling through them... obvious bullshit. Yet here it is, real as $140 oil and climbing (before we're formally at war with Iran.)

Obviously the Bush administration came up with this steaming crock of cow dung. What amazes me is the Ninth Circuit went along.

h/t Crooks and Liars.