Customs Searching, Seizing, Gadgets

Amir Khan, a Pakistani-born US Citizen, has had his laptop searched by US customs agents on five separate occasions when returning to the US from overseas. It’s no longer just rifling through your luggage, Customs is now going through laptops, Blackberries, and other gizmos, sometimes confiscating them, and sometimes never returning them. Please bend over and spread your laptop. Transcript, inside…

REPORTER: Computers are Amir Khan’s business. The Pakistani-born US citizen is an IT consultant, and always travel with at least one. But on five occasions he says customers and border patrol agents searched his computer when he returned to the US from overseas. He says they even forced him to give them access to confidential company data.

AMIR: He said even if you deny it to log me in, I will force you to log in. And so I had no choice and so I said, “can you at least show me what you’re doing?” But he didn’t listen and he just turned the laptop in a direction that I cannot see.

REPORTER: Others travelers tell similar stories. Some even had electronic devices confiscated and never returned. Laptops, cellphones, blackberries, often full of highly sensitive personal information.

DAVID COLE: Is it really like opening someone’s luggage or bag or rifling through to see if there’s any contraband in it, or is it more like a strip search.

REPORTER: To search your house, police need probable cause to believe you have commited a crime. Not so with customers and border protection searches of computers. A spokeswoman says the agency has, “Broad search authority at the borders to determine admissibility…or look for anything that may be a violation of criminal law.” She insists the agency does not racially profile. But will not say how it picks which electronic devices to search, or what is done with the information inside.