Legal battles over unwarranted search and seizure at the borders are spinning up.

Jan 18, 2010

For a couple of years now the Customs and Border Patrol of the United States has had the legal authority to confiscate the laptops of people entering the country to perform forensic analysis on an indefinite basis. If you don't give them your laptop (or you refuse to give them the passphrases to decrypt your data) they can and will send you back or incarcerate you, even if you're an American citizen. They also have standing orders to seize any and all data storage media you're transporting (including USB keys, cameras, cellular phones, MP3 players, and disks) for duplication and analysis also. Needless to say, a lot of people have flat-out refused to travel to the States anymore, and not a few US citizens no longer feel safe flying into, out of, or within this country at all.

It seems that the backlash against this draconian policy has begun in earnest: the ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have begun a search for members of the legal profession who have had their computers seized. Their argument that the CBP is violating the right of the people to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, plus it poses a serious risk to attorney-client, doctor-patient, and work-product privileges. In fact, the EFF has announced that they want to hear from defense lawyers who have had their laptops searched at the border who are willing to participate in this lawsuit. They are not seeking monetary compensation but to change the current state of affairs insofar as these practices are concerned. If you fall into this category, the contact information for one Michael Price of the NACDL can be found at the end of the EFF's announcement.