search and seizure, 21st century style
September 2, 2009
Imagine this scenario: you’re coming back through customs from a business trip, and the official suddenly asks if he can have your briefcase, which you give up, expecting the routine open…rifle through…close, only to have someone (perhaps a higher up) explain that the Department of Homeland Security needs to take your briefcase and thoroughly examine its contents. The official is probably fairly polite about it, but firm. He explains that if you just write down your address here, they’ll be sure to mail it back to within 30 days. Sound strange, or vaguely illegal? Well, get used to it, because DHS can now do that, except just not with paper documents.
From PC World:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released new rules for border agents searching travelers’ laptops and other electronic devices, but the revised guidelines won’t quiet complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The new guidelines, unveiled Thursday, continue to allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to search electronic devices during border crossings without suspicion of wrongdoing. Both CBP and ICE are part of DHS.
Note the part about “without suspicion of wrongdoing.” I think many of us are at least used to (if not totally in agreement with) the idea that officials can search your car, your bag, your briefcase given probable cause. But introducing a certain level of arbitrariness seems beyond our (or at least my) civic understanding of what’s reasonable.
DHS has lots of language in their statement about protecting civil liberties and such, but merely saying that you’re going to do something in a directive doesn’t actually mean you’re going to do it.
The new directive came a day after the ACLU filed an Freedom of Information Act for more information regarding the policy, so it seems that they at least are sensitive to public concerns.
And to that extent, I’d really like to hear more information about why DHS thinks it necessary to search people’s documents without probable cause.