Sunday, August 03, 2008

Feds now arrest your laptops at border

Not content with taking your shoes and confiscating your water, now the Department of Homeland Security is gunning for your laptops.

As the Washington Post reported yesterday, Border Patrol and Customs agents can now "detain" laptops "for a reasonable period of time" to "review and analyze information."

They don't need probable cause under the new policy. Doesn't matter if you're a U.S. citizen or foreign visitor. Officials can hold the laptops indefinitely. Or hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, video and audio tapes. Ditto papers, documents, books, pamphlets, even litter.

"It's not our intent to subject legitimate travelers to undue scrutiny, but to ensure the safety of the American public," wrote Jayson Ahern, U.S. Customs deputy commissioner, in a recent policy paper.

Arguing that border searches of laptops have already uncovered intellectual property rights violations, extremist Jihadist literature, video clips of IEDs and child pornography, he pledged the government would never disclose confidential information "without lawful authority."

The policy has been on the books for awhile, but just confirmed under pressure from civil rights and business groups worried about increasing reports of laptop confiscation.

"Truly alarming," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.). Added sci-fi blogger Annalee Newit, "Who will defend the rights of the detained laptops?"

-- Johanna Neuman

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