Senators question border laptop searches

Senators question border laptop searches
Senators question border laptop searches 

By Grant Gross
IDG News Service
June 25, 2008

Two U.S. senators called on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to 
back off its assertion that it can search laptops and other electronic 
devices owned by U.S. citizens returning to the country without the need 
for reasonable suspicion of a crime or probable cause.

Senators Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Patrick Leahy, a 
Vermont Democrat, both urged CBP to reconsider its policy that 
apparently has lead to frequent searches of laptops, digital cameras, 
and handheld devices at borders.

"If you asked [U.S. residents] whether the government has a right to 
open their laptops, read their documents and e-mails, look at their 
photographs, and examine the Web sites they have visited, all without 
any suspicion of wrongdoing, I think those same Americans would say that 
the government has absolutely no right to do that," said Feingold, 
chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the 
Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights. "And if you asked him 
whether that actually happens, they would say, 'not in the United States 
of America.'"

Two witnesses at a hearing before the subcommittee Wednesday described 
widespread CBP searches of electronic devices at borders, with data 
copies and devices sometimes confiscated for weeks. One Muslim executive 
at a U.S. tech vendor has been subjected to border interrogations at 
least eight times since early 2007, said Farhana Khera, president and 
executive director of Muslim Advocates.

Other travelers have been asked why they are Muslim, were questioned 
about their views of U.S. presidential candidates and had laptops and 
cell phones searched or confiscated, Khera said. "Innocent Muslim, Arab 
and South Asian Americans from all walks of life have had their 
electronic devices searched by CBP agents, or have been interrogated by 
CBP agents ... all without any reasonable suspicion that the individuals 
were engaged in unlawful activity," she said.


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