Just Check Your Fourth Amendment Rights at the Border

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit last month against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP's policy allows them to search travelers' laptops--with NO suspicion of wrongdoing required! The ACLU would like more information about that. So would I.

It seems the CBP claims they have the right to read information on travelers' laptops "absent individualized suspicion." That allows them access to all files saved on anyone's laptop: personal financial information, photographs, histories of Web sites visited--everything. They don't need any reason--or even any suspicion to believe that a traveler has broken the law!

What's more, they're also asserting their right to search "documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices." [Note to self: Yikes, even my iTouch?]

And, by the way, don't think your U.S. birth certificate will protect you. This policy includes everyone crossing the border, whether or not they're U.S. citizens.

We're used to customs offices in the U.S. and other countries inspecting goods being brought into the nation. But it is a radical new step for the government to claim that it can also inspect the information being brought across our borders.

From the ACLU blog:

"In a DHS press release, Secretary Janet Napolitano said:

‘Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States.'

Clearly, by "materials," CBP now means electronic data as well as physical materials."

The damage to our personal privacy is profound. However, the assistance to the country's security is minimal. Because, the ACLU notes: Who is inspecting of all the data that enters the U.S. via the internet?

Therefore, says the ACLU blog:

Clearly this policy really has nothing to do with "securing the borders" of the United States in the sense of CBP's right to search and seize for contraband goods. Rather, it is about giving border agents sweeping new powers to peer into the lives and invade the privacy of individuals crossing the border.

So, US citizens, until this gets straightened out, you can check your rights to privacy at the border on your way in. And don't expect a claim check. It could be that your coat at a banquet is worth more than your privacy is worth at the border.


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