Friday, August 01, 2008

Nomadic laptops can expect the rubber glove treatment

There's been a bit of a buzz lately about laptop inspections by the Department of Homeland Security (Crossing the border? Consider the possibility of laptop searches, Hands off my laptop, Your papers and laptops, please?, US Customs confiscating laptops). Today, the Washington Post is reporting on recently disclosed policies used by the DHS to take and inspect laptops:

Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained At Border (

... The policies state that officers may "detain" laptops "for a reasonable period of time" to "review and analyze information." This may take place "absent individualized suspicion."

The policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cell phones, 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.' "

Reasonable measures must be taken to protect business information and attorney-client privileged material, the policies say, but there is no specific mention of the handling of personal data such as medical and financial records.

When a review is completed and no probable cause exists to keep the information, any copies of the data must be destroyed. Copies sent to non-federal entities must be returned to DHS. But the documents specify that there is no limitation on authorities keeping written notes or reports about the materials.

"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." ...

If you want to take a look at the policy itself, it's here.

Thanks to Rob Hyndman for the tipoff.

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