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
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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