US Legal System puts the kibosh on warrantless seizure of laptops at the border.

Jun 23, 2010

For a couple of years now the US Department of Homeland Security has reserved the right to confiscate the laptop computers of US citizens for forensic analysis upon re-entry to the country after traveling abroad. It didn't matter if you were on one of their watchlists (and who isn't these days?), it didn't matter if you'd mouthed off to a security guard, it didn't matter whether or not they had probable cause, they could do it and possibly never return it to you depending on when the got around to going through it and how they felt that morning. It's caused a lot of people to think twice before leaving on a business trip and even been the reason that many a corporation has reworked their SOPs so that employees didn't have to transport sensitive information into or out of the country because the potential risk of the information getting out was deemed too great. Not too long ago a US District Judge in California ruled that DHS can't legally seize the equipment of travelers and store it for months on end without doing anything with it. The case in question involves one Andrew Hanson who returned from a business trip to South Korea early in 2009. Upon flying into SFO his laptop was confiscated by DHS, who claimed that his laptop was not covered by the bill of rights, the Fourth Amendment to the contrary. His laptop was returned months later after having been analyzed for the presence of electronic contraband. US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that DHS couldn't legally do that without a warrant, which requires them to show probable cause.

One has to wonder what effect this will have elsewhere in this country.