I’m becoming increasingly outraged by stories of American citizens having arbitrary searches of their laptops and other electronic gadgets at the border. Here’s a Salon story on this, and there are lots of others:
Generally I don’t think there should be a distinction between data transmitted into the country electronically and data carried by hand. Electronic data can be searched, subject to FISA court oversight. I think the same standards ought to apply to data carried by hand. In addition, I don’t think the border agents should be able to seize and keep any electronic gadger that is legal to have.
I’ve written my congresswoman and senators, with approximately the following letter:
DHS claims the right to search and seize electronic devices at the border. Passwords are demanded from citizens on pain of refusal to admit them to their own country. Devices are seized and not returned for months if ever. There are no standards or accountability.
I support the ability of DHS and NSA to search electronic communications across the border, and it makes sense to permit searches of electronic devices as well, but demanding passwords and seizing devices is not OK. i’d like you to work to stop these practices.
I would recommend that standards be put in place, requiring probable cause for such searches, that judicial oversight at least to the FISA level be applied, and that agents not be permitted to seize and keep devices or demand passwords. These protections would put data transmitted electronically on the same footing as data carried by hand.
When data is searched, either it should not be retained, or the retained data should be kept under extreme protections, as it may include personal healthcare information or attorney client privileged information, or corporate trade secrets, and I think the government has a duty not to be careless with such things.
Since then, I’ve gone off to research FISA a bit more. FISA oversight applies to intercepts of communications of foreign nationals – no eavesdropping on Americans is allowed without probable cause and a warrant. I think that level of protection should apply to citizens whereever they are: inside or outside the country or at the border