Tuesday, July 1, 2008

CUSTOMS OFFICIALS ROUTINELY SEIZING 5-10% OF LAPTOPS

OHM PROJECT The Baltimore Sun reports that U. S. Customs officials are routinely seizing 5-10% of the laptop s brought back in to the country by U. S. citizens returning home after international travel. There's no warrant or reasonable cause, just a program to randomly expropriate laptops and keep them for 2 weeks or longer for "random inspection of electronic media." The "program," in effect for the last few years, is also being applied to digital cameras, cell phones and PDAs.

Don't expect the courts to step in and stop the intrusion. In United States v. Arnold, the U. S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Constitution afforded no protection against random searches of laptops and other personal electronic equipment when citizens bring it back in to the U. S. Under this ruling, customs agents can seize a laptop, require you to open its files for their inspection, or download all your data to their computers. . .

Senate hearings last week revealed a pattern of overreaching and abuse by federal border officials. Senators Feingold and Leahy urged customs officials to back off. Feingold said the searches and seizures were out of keeping with Americans' understanding of their Constitutional rights:

"If you asked [U.S. residents] whether the government has a right to open their laptops, read their documents and e-mails, look at their photographs, and examine the Web sites they have visited, all without any suspicion of wrongdoing, I think those same Americans would say that the government has absolutely no right to do that," said Feingold, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights. "And if you asked him whether that actually happens, they would say, 'not in the United States of America.'"

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