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U.S. Federal Agents Given Authority to Seize All Electronic Devices in Airports

By Chris Hogg     Aug 1, 2008 in Travel
According to a report in the Washington Post, U.S. federal agents have been given authority to seize a traveller's laptop and gadgets for an unspecified amount of time, even without reasonable suspicion. This applies to anyone travelling in the U.S.
Digital Journal -- A traveller may lose his or her laptop or iPod, even if there is no suspicion of wrongdoing, under new search policies released by the United States Department of Homeland Security.
Federal agents can now look into and share the contents of a computer with other U.S. agencies, including sending information for translation or data decryption, the newspaper reported.
The new policies are reflected in documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, dated July 16.
As the Washington Post reports:
"The policies . . . are truly alarming," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who is probing the government's border search practices. He said he intends to introduce legislation soon that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches, as well as prohibit profiling on race, religion or national origin.
U.S. officials say their new policies apply to anyone coming into the U.S. (including American citizens) and are "reasonable and necessary to prevent terrorism." Officials admit they have been following these procedures for quite some time, but only disclosed them publicly in July because of mounting public interest.
The policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover "all papers and other written documentation," including books, pamphlets and "written materials commonly referred to as 'pocket trash' or 'pocket litter.' "
Federal agents are expected to take precautions to ensure business information or attorney-client privileged material is protected. Copies of data must be destroyed upon completion of a review.
As the Washington Post reports:
"They're saying they can rifle through all the information in a traveler's laptop without having a smidgen of evidence that the traveler is breaking the law," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Notably, he said, the policies "don't establish any criteria for whose computer can be searched."
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