Court Rules Customs Agents Can Collect Data From Laptops & Cellphones Without Cause

Some visitors and citizens of the United States may be shocked to learn that their computers, cell phones and data devices are now subject to search and data retrieval upon entry into the U.S., even without cause or suspicion. On April 19th, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all computers and data devices are the same as luggage in that they can be searched without cause, and that all collected data may be stored indefinitely. More, inside…

Until recently, the law said that unwarranted computer searches constituted an “intrusion of the mind”, but those days are now over in light of the new rulings. The latest rulings stem from a case where airline passenger, Timothy Arnold, was pulled aside for secondary questioning upon his arrival into LAX from The Philippines in July, 2005. Customs agents searched his laptop and found images depicting child pornography. Initially, it was ruled that agents didn’t have reasonable suspicion to search his laptop, however, that ruling was overturned. Arnold was later charged with possessing and transporting child porn and with traveling to a foreign country with the intention of having sex with children.

U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien praised the decision, “The government needs to have the ability to restrict harmful material from entering the country, whether that be weapons used by terrorists, dangerous narcotics or child pornography.” However, many disagree.

Travelers now have new concerns about the security of their private and corporate data. Some fear that poorly trained officers could accidentally corrupt or erase data during such searches. Also unknown, is where and how long data will be stored, perhaps making it vulnerable to theft or breaches. As it stands, all retrieved data can be kept indefinitely.

Despite the governments’ new far-reaching power into your privacy there are a few things you can do to help secure your data when you travel. CNET offers a handy article that outlines different types of encryption and other techniques that can help keep your data secure.

The added delays and headaches seem almost insignificant when considering how much our personal liberties are being systematically revoked. We can understand the need to search for weapons and contraband but suspicionless searches of data is a bold new level of privacy invasion. Our laptops and personal information, once considered an extension of the mind, are now considered luggage. We wonder how long it will be until our minds are also considered luggage and subject to search without suspicion.

Border Agents Can Search Laptops Without Cause, Court Rules [Information Week]
9th Circuit OKs Border Guards’ Search of Traveler’s Laptop []
Security guide to customs-proofing your laptop [CNET news]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. FreeMarketGravy says:

    “We wonder how long it will be until our minds are also considered luggage and subject to search without suspicion.”

    Yeah, got to watch out for those machines that read your mind and copy everything you have in it. *rolls eyes*

    This is highly unreasonable, but it really weakens one’s case when they present with with gross paranoia and elaborate unrealistic conspiracy theories about “searching one’s mind” without permission.

  2. MelL says:

    @FreeMarketGravy: Interrogation, maybe?

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @FreeMarketGravy: Goof, the way they “search your mind” is by putting you in a bleak room alone and asking you questions while you are stressed and vulnerable.

  4. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @speedwell: Plus, it doesn’t so much matter what you were thinking as what they can “deduce” you were thinking.

  5. FreeMarketGravy says:

    @MelL: That’s not searching your mind as much as asking you to answer questions. Until you are coerced to answer them, that’s a questioning, not a “search.”

    @speedwell: Being put in a bleak room is enough to make you “stressed and vulnerable?” I’m sorry to hear that.

  6. Jozef says:

    For personal files, I use the last suggestion in the article – placing them on a stationary server and accessing them there. No matter how well they’d search my laptop, they won’t find files that aren’t stored there.

    Unfortunately, that’s not an option for larger files (computer code I’m working on at work), as the article correctly points out. I work for a company that did recognize the threat of having a laptop impounded, along with some other drawbacks of having files shared between our offices (such as export restrictions on software), and the easiest approach we came up with was to send the programmer abroad and do all the coding there. That way, no code crosses the US border – be it on a physical device or over the Internet.

  7. “Let me get this straight…the documents are in the computer?”

  8. buzzybee says:

    What is the big problem? Customs can inspect anything that crosses the border. I appreciate their diligence ensuring that prohibited items and illegal material don’t pass inspection. It’s pretty much the last line of defence.

  9. nequam says:

    @FreeMarketGravy: I think the “searching the mind” remark was a bit of intentional hyperbole.

  10. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Being put in a bleak room is enough to make you “stressed and vulnerable?” I’m sorry to hear that.

    And I’m sorry to see that you think that’s what I said or implied. Try a course in reading comprehension.

  11. rougebob says:

    “On April 19th, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all computers and data devices are the same as luggage in that they can be searched without cause, and that all collected data may be stored indefinitely”

    Ill be looking forward to the data breach reveals thousands of users personal data story.

  12. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    It’s pretty much the last line of defence.

    Yeah, because some schmuck’s folder of pictures of naked people is an unstoppable threat more powerful than anything the integrity of our American democratic system, our laws, and our citizens can possibly withstand, right? Sheep.

  13. kylenalepa says:

    This is ridiculous. A complete abuse of power. I mean, I’m not particularly surprised or anything, but it’s still annoying that this seems to be a trend that won’t be reversing any time soon.

  14. MelL says:

    @FreeMarketGravy: Saying “searching” is nothing more than being colorful and consistent. Either way, it’s not cool.

  15. Pasketti says:

    Here you go:


  16. BigElectricCat says:

    My company requires all laptops and workstations to employ HDD encryption so that in the event a computer is stolen or lost, the data can’t easily be extracted.

    Regrettably, it seems that our government is bent on seeing my company’s financial data. Clearly, “your papers, Comrade” is not far off.

  17. ThinkerTDM says:

    @FreeMarketGravy: I would say keeping you in a room until you answered the questions coercion enough. Sure, you don’t have to answer them. You can just sit there.
    It’s not a very big jump from searching your computer, to extensive interrogation. And they could drag in your family, too.

  18. Sarge1985 says:

    Seems the 9th Circus needs to go and re-read the Constitution of the United States as currently amended. Specifically the 4th Amendment which states:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    In other words, go before a judge, show probable cause, and get a warrant. I will also take the fifth as my computer is password protected and,

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    (emphasis added)

  19. ThinkerTDM says:

    Encryption is the way to go; however, wouldn’t the fact you are hiding something mean that there is something to see? So an encrypted, hidden drive would be best.
    And, really, the big issue is who decides what is harmful? What if I happened to have Miley Cyrus’ Vanity Fair picture? I can see hours of intensive questioning over that.

  20. apotheosis says:

    This sounds like a good argument for storing data on a USB thumb drive disguised as something legal but unsavory.

    I’m thinking used pregnancy test stick.

    “Y’know, I peed on that.”

  21. jusooho says:

    @Sarge1985: There is something called the “Border Search Excemption” which states very specifically that no probable cause or warrant is needed for a search at the border. You may very well demand that the CBP to go in front of a judge and get a warrant, but there is no such requirment on the book.

  22. unravel says:

    A bunch of us with laptops need to get on the same plane. We wipe the hard drives ahead of time, and fill them up with captioned cat pictures. Hilarity ensues! Or maybe we just photoshop ourselves in to pictures of the poppy fields in Afghanistan, speedboats off the coast, land owned by cartels in Mexico or Colombia. Who’s with me?!

  23. unklegwar says:

    This is an end run around unlawful search and seizure. No one could come in and take my company’s data (or even my own personal data) from our desktops and servers without a warrant. but if I have to travel on business (or pleasure), they can take my data with no cause.

    So, they can take the document that describes our brilliant new business plan, and hold it indefinitely.

    Thank you to all you IDIOTS who voted GWB in the second time, and the court that appointed him the first.

  24. chrisjames says:

    So as to reduce the risk of harmful contaminants to the local ecosystem, like foreign computer viruses? Or what, like it’s not so damned easy to hide data?

    Let’s see: encryption. That’s it. Game over. But suppose customs gets clever, how about putting stuff on an SD card in a digital camera. No? Too easy? A firmware cloak on an MP3 player. Or how about mag tape? Get one of those old data writers from the 70s that writes to standard cassette tapes, then scrounge up a few hundred or so and tell customs you love the sound of them. Challenge them to have a tape player handy to test them (not that you couldn’t mask it with analog, but that’s part fo the fun, eh?).

  25. DHT says:

    At least the 9th Circuit is the most overturned court of all the Appeals Circuits.

  26. hubris says:

    @chrisjames: Jesus, dude, you must be transporting some awesome stuff. :)

    You know what the main problem with this law is going to be from a PR standpoint? The fact that this dude was found with child porn. It’s kind of hard to rally the troops when the case is predicated on a fucking pervert. I don’t see as many people taking up arms against this travesty when it’s going to have to be in support of this dude.

  27. Gridneo says:

    I think I’m going to create a couple of fake images, and label them something along the lines of something illegal, i.e. kiddie pr0n or something, and have a picture of Goatse or the 2girls1cup video with an overlay saving ‘Illegal Searches FTL’.

  28. kityglitr says:

    My fiance and I keep a close eye out for the moment that the fascism gets too thick on the ground here in the United States. Our plan was to get the hell out of the country before it’s too late. I think we may already be too late, though… Last time I checked, we still don’t have Writ of Habeus Corpus back.

  29. B1663R says:

    @Pasketti: nice try, that will just bring on the waterboard with the “what are you hiding?” questions.

    the term “indefinitely” is a long time. our Canadian company was just requested by the feds to archive all (and i mean ALL) emails for the next 30 years. (long story)

    thats 2500 people, exchanging emails archived for 30 FREAKIN’ YEARS!!!

  30. DearEditor says:

    @chrisjames: Dig up yer 8″ floppies!

  31. Anonymous says:

    1. Redirect every icon on your desktop to a mpeg of 2girls1cup.
    2. Have your embedded webcam start up automatically to record.
    3. Upload the “reaction” video to youtube.
    4. ????
    5. Profit!

  32. geoffhazel says:

    Encryption of files or HDD won’t save you from Customs. They will just insist you give them the password. If you refuse, they can keep you from boarding the plane with the laptop. Your choice.

    Some companies now give travellers newly imaged laptops to travel with and you access all your files on corporate server.

  33. CRNewsom says:

    @apotheosis: You, sir, are a genious. Personally, I would use one of those sticks a vet uses to get stool samples from my dog. Add dried brownie batter for extra fun…

  34. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    Wonder if you remove the hard drive before going through security, if they have the legal right to put it back in to get the info from it…

  35. WHAAA? Damn kiddie pornographers ruining it for the rest of us.

  36. stacye says:

    @unravel: or better yet: go to fark, find the best FAIL meme photo contest, and save all those photos.

  37. Trai_Dep says:

    @DHT: propaganda. The Ninth sees more cases than any other, by a factor of at least two since it’s vast. Numbers can be your friend!
    Although, they usually decide on the side of sanity.
    I shudder to think of Geek Squad members posing in der Homeland Security uniforms, however.

    And, why would companies like Toyota, Sony, etc., have their laptop-equipped execs enter the US? Would we allow US execs, holding confidential info for US companies, be ransacked by foreign security forces? Of course not.
    Another case of HSA torpedoing international business.

    Also note, they can copy all they’d like. The ruling says nothing about being forced to provide the encryption key. That’s still protected, right?

  38. copperheadclgp says:

    @geoffhazel: Thankfully, the open-source TrueCrypt encryption suite has a solution for this: []

    Given the fact that it was designed to help protect the privacy of those living in oppressive societies, it is extremely telling that we are reduced to using it now.

  39. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    This is awful, especially for international business travelers. I think Jozef has the right idea. Just bring a laptop with no valuable data. When you get to your destination, just access your corporate VPN or whatever.

  40. Froggmann says:

    “But it’s for the children!

  41. chrisjames says:

    @Trai_Dep: What are the laws on obstructing a customs search? Not providing an encryption key, assuming you have it, would fall under that if they’re crafty about interpretation. Of course, you could say you don’t have it and their only recourse is torture or needless litigation … or perhaps confiscating your hard drive and not giving it back until the “search is complete.”

  42. mac-phisto says:

    some folks here are advocating ways to avoid releasing the data. couldn’t actions such as storing sensitive data on an sd card, or masking your HD contents be construed as obstruction? at that point, aren’t you smuggling data?

    i don’t have a laptop, but if i did & if i were traveling abroad, i would certainly have an issue with the government searching & seizing my data.

    & what constitutes “data”? my cell phone records? the pictures on my camera? the log from my pedometer? where does it stop?

    finally, who’s protecting me from abuse of authority? who is in charge of checking the checkers? who makes sure data is not being misappropriated & manipulated?

    Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
    -John Adams

  43. cswinter says:

    No probable cause or reasonable suspicion for searches at the Nation’s borders. United States v. Montoya de Hernandez.

  44. MeOhMy says:

    @chrisjames: Or you could store it hidden in an Atari 2600 game cartridge. If it looks like they are going to get a high enough score to trigger the release of the secret data, shoot them with a Gotcha gun and shout “Jack Flack always escapes!” over your shoulder as your run away.

  45. axiomatic says:

    “The government needs to have the ability to restrict harmful material from entering the country, whether that be weapons used by terrorists, dangerous narcotics or child pornography.”

    Does this douche bag realize that the internet is global? I could bring a laptop over with an empty hard drive and buy/download my “Microsoft Jihad Development Kit” (MJDK) once I get here.

    100% FAIL.

  46. Trai_Dep says:

    @chrisjames: I’m no Constitutional lawyer, and welcome schooling from someone that is. But I recall a couple cases bouncing around our legal system that involve citizens not giving their password and the courts finding that, depending on the situation, the state couldn’t require it.
    * Providing the password was seen as searching the mind, a no-no
    * The state breaking the encryption was deemed okay (similar to blasting the door off a safe)

    Of course, borders are different things. As noted, I think Customs can say, “You want in, give the password. Else we choose not to let you in.” In THAT case, there’s no invasion of the mind, “simply” coercion.

    I welcome comments from people more knowledgeable about matters, obviously. I’m sort of ignorant on the particulars.

  47. ninabi says:

    Your privacy is now property of the US government. There oughta be a law…

    Oh yes, that’s right. There was one.

  48. jamar0303 says:

    @kityglitr: Yep. I’ve been thinking of the same thing. But where?

  49. lesspopmorefizz says:

    death to privacy! long live the State!

  50. Trai_Dep says:

    Err, a better explanation to the first case.
    Police JAILED someone for contempt of court, saying they’d be released once they provided the passkey to their encrypted hard drive to authorities.
    The poor guy stayed in jail for months before a higher court found that this is illegal for the reasons given.

    Another case involved authorities guessing the passcode (dumb user) and a different circuit court found this was equivalent to Elliot Ness blowing the door off of Capone’s safe. Kosher.

    Different kettle of fish when entering a country, but interesting. Anyone know more of this?

  51. If you refuse to let your computer be examined and you are an American citizen, do you have to stay in the airport until they let you go? I mean, I never traveled across the ocean, but if I refused, what legally could they do? I don’t think arrest me as I haven’t broken any laws. I wonder if someone who has the time and is willing to be there for a few days to see what would happen.

  52. Just great. I would still encrypt the hard drive or file. They still have access to the data just not in a easy to read form. Hope this gets overturned. IF this keeps up we won’t have any freedoms left

  53. Another idea everyone install lynix when travelling. If they are going to search your drive make it as difficult as possible

  54. KleineFrau says:

    I prefer to store absolutely nothing critical on my machine. Network storage drives and remote desktop are my friends. So, should customs feel it necessary to take my laptop, they’re going to have a really high-end machine that mysteriously only runs Roller Coaster Tycoon.

  55. jamesdenver says:


    Good christ. Like your rights much?

  56. Pro-Pain says:

    Who needs freedom or rights? We’re safe now!! WOO-HOO! /sarcasm off…

  57. Anto103 says:

    @Coven: I like his idea best.

    But would they bang you up if you had a bunch of backed up dvd’s sitting on your hard drive? And will they do the same thing to foreigners going into the states?

  58. fuzzycuffs says:

    So we all (should) know about encrypting your files. What I’m afraid of is the border agents seeing encryption and immediately thinking that you did something wrong. It’s the classic “if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” stupidity.

    The process and procedures for search and seizure of data haven’t been disclosed, however. The information has been requested via the Freedom of Information Act, but the government is not complying (big surprise with our government, huh?). That’s why I’m afraid that even if you keep data on your person, in encrypted form, it’s just a red flag for them to take it away even if it is personal info and they’ll never get it (they can’t force you to reveal your password… yet. but even then, you could use the hidden volume function of TrueCrypt to at least say you didn’t know something else was there).

  59. chrisjames says:

    @Trai_Dep: That first case sets a mighty precedent, but yeah, border regulations may be different.

    Another question: what’s the rule on how you stand before and after going through customs, as in isn’t it essentially US soil on one side, but not before customs? I have no idea about the technicalities, but couldn’t they argue that if you don’t give them the password to finish the search, they either confiscate the device or prevent you from passing through … into the country? That, to me, is similar to detainment, but it’s probably a completely different story in the eyes of the law.

  60. @mac-phisto: “what constitutes “data”? my cell phone records? the pictures on my camera? the log from my pedometer? where does it stop?”

    Yes to all of the above. I believe it was the Washington Post that had a long article about this a month or two ago before the case went for deliberation.

    Any electronic device with capability of storing files/data of any kind is free game.

    Cellphone logs were specifically mentioned in that article of Washington Post, because someone coming back from a business trip to Pakistan was forced to hand over her call logs.

  61. Zimorodok says:

    “Also unknown, is where and how long data will be stored, perhaps making it vulnerable to theft or breaches. As it stands, all retrieved data can be kept indefinitely.”

    Anybody else picture a gigantic government warehouse filled with row upon row, shelf upon shelf, of giant racks of laptops, sitting there until the end of time?

    Think Ark of the Covenant here.

  62. res says:

    So does this only apply to crossing the border or does it apply to domestic flights as well? Either way it’s bullshit. I have to agree with the people who have suggested using the hidden volume function of TrueCrypt. If the feds asked for your password you could give them the password to the dummy volume. This would probably expedite your trip through customs since there would be no way for them to prove that you were being anything but compliant. The only drawbacks are that they could still copy the drive and possibly crack the encryption, and that you appear to be compliant. Shouldn’t we be fighting this shit tooth and nail?

  63. mike says:

    I think there’s a bit of an over-reaction to this. There’s nothing in the article (I have yet to read the ruling) that says that the information is copied and stored. Even if it was, the government does such a bad job to begin with collecting data, it seems like a trivial concern.

    I’m kind of on the fense with this case. I understand the 9th’s ruling: customs can search you to make sure you’re not bringing plants or animals. I’m sure you can make the argument that Custom’s can’t search your luggage for the same reason: privacy. Searching your hard drive for illegal content…I can see how that can make that logical jump.

    But from a civil rights stand-point, it doesn’t seem that far to jump from Customs to Joe Police Officer.

  64. asujosh1 says:

    Um, anyone ever heard of FedEx, or UPS, maybe DHL? Ship your laptop to the hotel you will be staying in out of the country and ship it back before you leave. I doubt that there is going to be some guy going through each and every package and opening the laptops to search the data. If they do, use TrueCrypt to encrypt everything and you are not there to be detaimed or questioned.

    All that aside, this is a monumental abuse of power, too bad the toolbox was into kiddie pr0n, otherwise the ACLU might have gotten involved…

  65. delphi_ote says:


    Okay. Question here. If the files are my “luggage”, isn’t the government keeping my files indefinitely a bit like keeping my property indefinitely?

    It’s property when they want to take it and an idea when they want to keep it. Convenient!

  66. iheartconsumerist says:

    To me the goofiest part of this whole deal is how it is yet another example of how we are invading the rights of normal people to implement a program that has almost no effect on actual security.

    Searching digital content to prevent it from entering the country is retarded at best. Since we have this wonderful thing called the internet its pretty easy for people to transfer files between countries without the oversight of the government. Only an idiot would be stupid enough have something like “check list for terrorist attack” on the hard drive of their laptop – My prediction, this new policy is going to result in corporate data being leaked and every once in a while catch some schmuck with kiddie porn on his computer. Chances of this having any effect on terrorism… to 0.

    To me the argument of a laptop or cell phone being similar to luggage can only be made by people who don’t completely understand technology. Your luggage won’t give the government a list of every phone call you’ve made or received, every website you have ever visited, all the emails you have sent/recieved, copies of any personal information you may have laying around (online orders, financial records, diaries, chat logs, pictures, information on how to access your online accounts).

    The shear wealth of information you can find out about someone from their laptop is frightening and a good reason that its absurd for anyone to claim a laptop or cell phone is similar to luggage…

  67. chrisjames says:

    Wait… so they’re allowed to copy the data off of the media? What if they copy my MP3s?

  68. WraithSama says:

    DHT has a valid point. Let me clarify.

    While it’s true that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is much larger than it should be, regardless of the increased volume of cases the court rules on, a highly disproportionate number of rulings made by the court end up overturned by the Supreme Court (often unanimously). There’s a reason the 9th Circuit is commonly called the “runaway court” or the “rogue court”.

    Frequently accused of making activist and ideologically-motivated rulings, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has about an 86% ruling reversal rate by decisions that were appealed to the Supreme Court. I’ve seen that rate as high as over 96% in one year. Additionally, here is an illuminating paragraph from an article I found:

    “According to dozens of legal scholars and former judicial clerks, the 9th Circuit has more than earned its reputation as a “runaway court.” It has by far the highest overrule record since the federal judiciary was expanded in 1978. In one year, the 1996-1997 session, the Supreme Court reversed 27 of the 28 cases it considered from the 9th Circuit. This number is all the more arresting upon further examination, say both conservative and liberal legal analysts, because 17 of the cases were overturned by unanimous decisions. “When the Supreme Court overrules you unanimously, they are sending a message,” says Arthur Hellman, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Given that today’s Rehnquist court generally is considered moderate to conservative — including liberal jurists such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — these unanimous reversals are most revealing about the 9th Circuit’s distemper and disrespect for the Supreme Court.”

  69. Squeezer99 says:

    9th circus court of appeals lets us down again

  70. Ghede says:

    Time to start stretching, I like my privacy so I’ll have to smuggle my laptop.

    I’ll leave you to think about that for a moment.

  71. bizzz says:

    time to turn up the temp on the water….the little froggies are getting too comfortable. We’ve are now trained to automatically remove our shoes going through security as well as place our toiletries in nice neat little packages. This is just a natural progression of things

    I envision a day where there will be “data download stations” at every security checkpoint at every airport.

    After the delousing at the metal detector, you can take your laptop/cellphone, data stick, etc. over to a kiosk, plug it in, and the govn’t automatically downloads everything on it for examination and archival. Try to sneak a micro sD card through? Punishable by 10 years in prison.

    Remember, the data will be around forever. If, one day, the govn’t decides to make surfing online poker sites a felony (like they do in WA state), they go back and mine all that data to find out who went to those sites. Bam! There’s your probable cause for a warrant so the jackbooted thugs can come bust down your door.

    Fortunately computers are becoming so cheap that I envision a kiosk that sells “throwaway” computers similar to prepaid cell phones. The degenerate freedom loving criminals are always one step ahead of johnnie law!

  72. taka2k7 says:

    @Pasketti: ding ding
    @DearEditor: damn, you beat me to that suggestion.
    @iheartconsumerist: exactly. Sure search my electronics for a hidden weapon/bomb, but using the excuse of stopping stuff coming into the country is completely absurd.

  73. ironchef says:

    crazy expansion of governmental powers here. Founding fathers turning in graves like a rotisserie.

  74. mtaylor924 says:

    Well technically this only applies when you enter the country within the areas covered by the 9th Circuit, right? If you enter anywhere else, couldn’t you stil argue all the points stated above?

  75. rawsteak says:


    im going to start carrying viruses on my laptop. sorry im too cheap to get some anti-virus scanner. it’s my laptop and i’ll download everything and anything myspace tells me to, so bite me!

    :D sweet revenge :D

  76. rawsteak says:

    um, that comment had nothing to do with DearEditor… sorry!

  77. hatrack says:


    And of course a couple of hundred years ago talk of space flight and international air travel would have no doubt induced similar eye rolls.

    Just because we can’t do it today doesn’t mean we won’t ever be able to. No doubt rulings like this will be used argue the precedent. If it ever did become possible.

  78. Cocotte says:

    Did they suspect him of travelling in order to have sex with children just because he had kiddie porn on his laptop? In that case, hot damn, I’m going on the road to have hot monkey sex with the poolboy and a wide assortment of delivery men from my own personal collection.

  79. Sarge1985 says:

    @jusooho: Searching for items that are dangerous to others is one thing as we all have a vested interest in safety. How far is too far? What were they searching the computer for? Weapons, explosives, drugs? There was no cause to search the laptop just because he was overseas.

  80. Sarge1985 says:

    @DHT: Amen! FTW

  81. Trai_Dep says:

    @WraithSama: Thanks for the clarification. I didn’t know that. :)

  82. trujunglist says:

    Store all your highly sensitive files in a miniature hard drive like an iPod. Carry it with you. Customs asks for your data, you throw it on the ground and stomp the shit out of it while yelling RECOVER THIS MOTHERFUCKERS!
    Man, I can’t imagine the kind of data they’ll get out of this. If they decide to start really checking things out, i.e. copying EVERYTHING from your laptop/hds, then I can see customs waits being so much more painful! I for one relish the idea of getting off of a 15 hour flight and then waiting around for 2 hours while my entire hard drive is being duplicated.

  83. FLConsumer says:

    @trujunglist: It’s amazing what modern recovery techniques can do. I’ve recovered data off drives which looked like they had been through hell & back, hard drives that were soaking in salt water, had been through fire, etc.

  84. LUV2CattleCall says:

    Time to start marketing suppository jump drives…

  85. Lambasted says:

    @LUV2CattleCall: Won’t work, think anal probes. Aliens already have it down to a science. I’m sure they passed their info to the feds a long time ago at Area 51.

  86. DeeJayQueue says:

    I’m curious how this lets them copy licensed files. chrisjames actually hit on a good point. Can Microsoft sue the government for making illegal copies of its software if they scour the drive? What about people who use Linux or Mac OS? Most border patrol goons barely know what a laptop looks like, and when something new comes along (macbook air) they freak out anyway. How will they even know how to access the data on the computer?

    FedExing an entire laptop might be cost prohibitive, but sending the HD that way might be a better way to go. OR, start investing in things like SSDs and mail them since they are less volatile.

    Another way to do it would be for your IT dept to encrypt the drive but not tell you the password for it, mail it to wherever you’re going and then you have plausible deniability. If this became policy at a bunch of companies it would be a quick pattern to recongnize and after a few cases where people get detained that would stop real quick.

  87. Ragman says:

    Encrypt what you can’t put online, and store the encrypted file down the windows/system sub directory. Change the extension to .dll. They can’t ask you for your password if they can’t find the file.

    Haven’t flown in a while – do they search your wallet(never had mine searched)? Wonder if they’d catch onto an SD card in the wallet…

    “if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” does not apply. You encrypt your data due to the risk of laptop theft.

  88. BugMeNot2 says:

    @Sarge1985: The part you are missing is that when you cross the border, the search is no longer “unreasonable”. There are numerous exceptions to requiring a warrant for a search and seizure – for example, maybe you have heard of a Terry stop.

    And your misunderstanding of the 5th amendment is kind of funny. You don’t have to provide testimony that would incriminate you in a criminal trial. However, external evidence, like your voice, dna, fingerprints, and especially your personal property, are free game under that amendment. They can hack into your computer and use whatever is on it against you. Sorry to disappoint.

  89. BugMeNot2 says:

    @speedwell: Ummm… this guy has kiddie porn. Not exactly the same thing as “naked people” but thanks for playing.

  90. LionelEHutz says:

    Great, the USA has now completed its transformation into the USSR. And the sheeple let it happen since it doesn’t interfere with American Idol.

  91. mikelotus says:

    unless you are in canada, you are getting off the plane. encrypt it in a hidden file. they won’t find it. if they do, you don’t know what it is and you sure don’t know the password. you can store a very long password on a server. using maximum encryption means they won’t get to it while you are alive at least.

    @WraithSama: except its for decisions that typically limit the government’s power like medical marijuana in california. we have a liberal court and a conservative, activist supreme court.

    @bizzz: that’s a urban myth on frogs. water gets too hot, frogs jump out.

    @res: use a good password and by the time they crack it, you will be very old or dead.

  92. gomakemeasandwich says:

    Look, I’m all for catching child predators (the lowest scum on earth), but shitting all over the Constitution to do it doesn’t work for me, not to mention that this is literally “Big Brother” finally in an obvious form.


    “Most border patrol goons barely know what a laptop looks like, and when something new comes along (macbook air) they freak out anyway. How will they even know how to access the data on the computer?”

    Don’t confuse the Border Patrol and the TSA. The Border Patrol works hard and is understaffed for their mission, and a number of them are killed fighting drug runners with automatic weapons. The TSA is just an agency (mostly) full of idiots, and are the people who were confused about the Macbook Air. Get your shit straight before you sprout your crap.


    “The part you are missing is that when you cross the border, the search is no longer “unreasonable”. There are numerous exceptions to requiring a warrant for a search and seizure – for example, maybe you have heard of a Terry stop.”

    A “Terry frisk” has nothing to do with copying data off of a computer. It is an exterior patdown for weapons (and “obvious” drugs). It exists more for the safety of the officer than anything else. If you can fit a Terry frisk in to copying hard drive contents (as opposed to examining the computer to see if it’s a bomb) without probable cause, I’ll be very impressed.


    “However, external evidence…especially your personal property, are free game under that amendment. [5th Amendment] They can hack into your computer and use whatever is on it against you.”

    Yes, except that to hack in to your computer, they need probable cause, which is covered under the 4th Amendment. There is no part of US law that says that you can go trolling through someone’s computer looking for whatever, especially without probable cause, and the last time I checked, traveling overseas isn’t probable cause to search my hard drive for nothing specific. Thanks for playing.


    “use a good password and by the time they crack it, you will be very old or dead.”

    Exactly. The TSA and Customs can have full access to my hard drive, but I doubt that they’ll be interested in reading what’s on it after it takes them 500 years to crack the encryption.

  93. gomakemeasandwich says:

    BTW BugMeNot2, a “Terry Stop” has two parts: the stop and the frisk, and the stop requires “reasonable suspicion.”

  94. gomakemeasandwich says:

    BTW BugMeNot2, a “Terry Stop” has two parts: the stop and the frisk, and the stop requires “reasonable suspicion” in the first place, and to do the frisk, the officer has to justify the belief that the suspect as a weapon and would be dangerous to the officer. Not quite copying shit off of a hard drive for no reason.

  95. gomakemeasandwich says:

    Ah shit, double post…

  96. ngth says:

    Are you serious? How much more time / money does this government want to waste?!

  97. Maurs says:

    This is completely stupid. There’s no national security justification for this. Any piece of data that might be illegal or used for nefarious, and might reside on someone’s searchable-at-the-border laptop, is going to be a hell of a lot easier to transfer through the internet once they are in the country anyway.

  98. skilled1 says:

    I fly all the time, inside the country fortunatly. However I will tell you right now. There is NO EFFING WAY any of the tards at one of the airports is getting anything off my laptop without a warrant. I do not care if that means I do not fly that day, it ain’t happening.

  99. “We wonder how long it will be until our minds are also considered luggage and subject to search without suspicion.”

    You’re literally on a slippery slope with that kind of logic – but who’s never used exaggeration to get a point across?

    This is certainly a startling report.

  100. artgarciasc says:

    This is just a way for the GOV to get all sorts of secret info from companies. they will then give the info to companies who donate large amounts of money to senators and congressmen. Imagine, find some new hot product, give it to the company who gives you all the bribes. they turn around and reverse engineeer it, and presto the original company is out of the picture

  101. squat6971 says:

    I spent 12 years importing toys from Hong Kong and China. Be assured, until Customs let’s you pass, you have NO RIGHTS, NO CONSTITUTION, NO APPEAL.

    Snooping through my laptop, or digitally examining my orifices, without cause, are all LEGAL.

  102. Mr. Gunn says:

    buzzybee: It’s not your problem, until it is.

    I fly all the time, but if any TSA personnnel do ANYTHING other than run my laptop through the scanner, that’s the last goddamn flight I’ll ever take. The inevitable fiasco will make geek squad look like amateurs.

    Yes, I am an Internet Tough Guy.

  103. Mr. Gunn says:

    Also, This PBF Comic comes to mind.

    I don’t know how the image thing is supposed to work, or I’d use it.

  104. Difdi says:

    I do believe that the next time I travel , I will take my old laptop. Every piece of personal data on it will be protected with PGP. Random pieces of data will alternate between viral payloads (I collect a lot of amusing neutered prank-level viruses) and clown porn, giving anyone who manages to crack the encryption (good luck, PGP is fairly robust) a 95% chance of getting an eyeful they will *not* enjoy. All of the PGP files will involve passwords I will deliberately forget before leaving for the airport, of a length that guarantees I probably couldn’t remember them even if I wanted to.

    Assuming they find an actual data file and decrypt it, they will discover nothing but a series of *large* text files of the Constitution.

    Search my laptop? Feel free. Just, you know, don’t RUN any of those programs… =P

  105. MisterE87 says:

    Just wanted to say how ridiculous this is. I would back up my blackberry and lock it, then set a bios password on my laptop. I’d just tell them I forgot my passwords, and have to get my IT guy to unlock everything. if they try to hard, my blackberry will just wipe everything anyway, and then i can just restore it when i get past security. It’s a pain, but worth it so no high school dropout has free reign with my expensive electronics.