By Stephanie Condon
Politics and Law
September 30, 2008
The Homeland Security Department has declared its right to seize laptops
at the U.S. border indefinitely, but legislation introduced Thursday is
intended to curb that power.
U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Rep.
Adam Smith, (D-Wash.), introduced the Travelers Privacy Protection Act
in response to the DHS policy allowing customs agents to detain a
traveler's laptop for an unspecified period of time to review its
contents, even absent of individualized suspicion.
"Most Americans would be shocked to learn that upon their return to the
U.S. from traveling abroad, the government could demand the password to
their laptop, hold it for as long as it wants, pore over their
documents, e-mails, and photographs, and examine which Web sites they
visited--all without any suggestion of wrongdoing," Feingold said.
"Focusing our limited law enforcement resources on law-abiding Americans
who present no basis for suspicion does not make us any safer and is a
gross violation of privacy."
The legislation would require DHS to form reasonable suspicion of
illegal activity before searching electronic devices carried by U.S.
residents. The DHS would also be required to provide probable cause and
a warrant or court order to hold such a device for more than 24 hours.
The bill also limits what information acquired through electronic
searches the DHS can disclose, and it requires the department to report
on its border searches to Congress.
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