Homeland Security: We Can Detain Your Laptop Indefinitely Without Cause

The Orwellian Department of Homeland Security claims that it can indefinitely confiscate laptops and iPods from law abiding citizens without any provocation or justification. The Department “clarified” their policies after several business travelers started asking the press why Homeland Security was fiddling with their laptops and PDAs for months on end.

DHS officials said the newly disclosed policies — which apply to anyone entering the country, including U.S. citizens — are reasonable and necessary to prevent terrorism. Officials said such procedures have long been in place but were disclosed last month because of public interest in the matter.

Civil liberties and business travel groups have pressed the government to disclose its procedures as an increasing number of international travelers have reported that their laptops, cellphones and other digital devices had been taken — for months, in at least one case — and their contents examined.

The policies state that officers may “detain” laptops “for a reasonable period of time” to “review and analyze information.” This may take place “absent individualized suspicion.”

The policies cover “any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form,” including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover “all papers and other written documentation,” including books, pamphlets and “written materials commonly referred to as ‘pocket trash’ or ‘pocket litter.’ “

Reasonable measures must be taken to protect business information and attorney-client privileged material, the policies say, but there is no specific mention of the handling of personal data such as medical and financial records.

Senator Kickass Feingold (D-WI), sponsor of the unrelated Arbitration Fairness Act, plans to introduce legislation to require “reasonable suspicion” for border searches.

Defending the searches, Secretary Chertoff wrote in an Op-Ed that “the most dangerous contraband is often contained in laptop computers or other electronic devices.” He added that “searches have uncovered “violent jihadist materials” as well as images of child pornography.”

Just imagine what draconian Torquemada-esque searches they’ll devise once they realize even more ‘dangerous’ and ‘violent’ material lurks within people’s minds.

Travelers’ Laptops May Be Detained At Border [Washington Post]
(AP Photo/Mike Derer)


Edit Your Comment

  1. srudes2 says:

    This is really crazy. What’s next?[fill in your phrase here]

  2. Half Beast says:

    Well then, I guess every traveler in the US is either a jihad-driven terrorist or a child pornographer.
    gg DHS.

  3. Brontide says:

    I fully support custom’s right to *SEARCH* anything. But actually taking a laptop/ipod/pda without cause needs to be struck down. If they do take something there needs to be some articulation of cause and a timetable for return that’s reasonable ( say 3 months ).

  4. Yurei says:

    I heard about this months ago, was surprised it took this long for the consumerist to post it. I think it’s absolute s***. My mom uses her lap top to process credit card transactions through a secured net connection. So the US government can now take her lap top when she tries to go into canada on business, copy everything on her hard drive, and store and view that information for any amount of time. and given that the government is somehow involved, you KNOW someone will be taking advantage of the information they come across, because the government is corrupt. Never mind lawyer and doctor/patient confidentiality, or other sensitive business matters, prototypes, etc that the TSA and government has no business looking at. Absolute s***. We are losing our rights, and no one’s even noticing -_-; PRetty soon the government will be able to just waltz into your house and tear it apart searching without a warrant because it “looks suspicious”.

  5. @snowmoon: Suppose someone has something encrypted, and it takes more than three months to decrypt?

  6. Carrnage says:

    How do they even have any reasonable doubt? If you carry-on a laptop, what would be so suspicious?

    “That laptop gave me a dirty look! Detain it for 3 to 6 months!”

  7. snoop-blog says:

    Hmmm, likening personal information that’s digitally stored to our thoughts….. I like it!

  8. @Yurei: No, they can’t when she enters Canada. That would be the Canadian government. When she returns across the border to the US, then yes, they can. I am surprised your mother keeps such information on her hard drive. As many Consumerist readers have seen, there have been a lot of cases of people having their identity stolen b/c someone misplaced their laptop or it was stolen. As for “losing” our rights, this rule about searching when coming into the country has been in place for at least 150 years. It certainly wasn’t around when I was born, and possibly your mother as well.

  9. HalOfBorg says:

    What about legal documents? Can they take those for unspecified amounts of time? That could screw up any sort of things.

  10. There is no excuse for not alerting travelers of this policy beforehand.

    Regardless of your legal right to search, it is vital that business travelers know beforehand that their laptop could be detained for months without individual suspicion. They were not even given an explanation beforehand.

  11. FeralKoala says:

    “Senator Kickass Feingold”

    What are you, 14?

  12. nsv says:

    “Hey Fred, check it out! This is an Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 laptop. Daaaamn… we need to confiscate this sucker for a few months. Tell that guy he’s a terrorist and we’re keeping his laptop.”

  13. jamar0303 says:

    This is nuts. Maybe after annoying enough corporations something will be done about this policy.

  14. InThrees says:

    This isn’t really news (in the sense that it’s new) but I’m really glad to see another article on it.

    If, while meeting no criteria for reasonable suspicion and being guilty of no crime, you have an item taken from you indefinitely, how can that not qualify as unreasonable search and seizure?

    And this thread needs:

    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 particular what bothers me is the information dragnet. If it’s written down and it’s not child porn, !@#$ OFF, GUBMINT. I’d hate to be an author or journalist traveling for research. The potential there for false positive, or hell, real (but ridiculous) positive under whatever rules they use to raise red flags is enormous.

  15. corkdork says:

    I suppose international travelers will soon have to take the step of encrypting their data with strong, secure algorithms (TrueCrypt, anyone?). Of course, then, you’ll be detained for not revealing your keys.

    It’s a slippery slope… and we’re sliding down it.

  16. brent_r says:

    @InThrees: As you said, this is really the key here:
    “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.”

    The violations need to stop asap.

  17. @InThrees:

    OMG! That is the funniest thing ever. Quoting the Constitution.

    As if this Administration or the TSA give a damn about some antiquated document.

    We’re at war, dammit!

  18. Hongfiately says:


    Banning cellphone use while driving? Check.
    Banning smoking in restaurants and infringing on private property rights? Check.
    Banning trans fats? Check.
    Banning soft money and electioneering communication within 60 days of a federal election? Check.
    Ethanol mandate? Check.

  19. Brontide says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Re: encryption

    If they can’t get the user to give them the key then they should return the hardware blanked.

  20. dasunst3r says:

    I saved up money to be able to buy my gadgets (which I need for my everyday work in school), and I hope they’re prepared to deal with someone who goes on an emotional breakdown because he/she cannot afford another thing of whatever they took.

  21. Robobot says:

    I guess it is possible to ship all one’s important paper documents and electronics to one’s home and avoid all this. Expensive, but possible very worth the cost.

    In addition to scanning your loptop and documents in the interest of homeland security, it also sounds like they might be sneaking in scans for illegal downloads on electronics. G8 decided at their last meeting that they wanted to crack down on music piracy. There are reports in some of the other G8 countries of iPods and laptops being scanned for illegally obtained at security checkpoints. I was wondering when they would start doing the same here, but it looks like they have already started.


  22. chartrule says:

    It’s not just about electronics anymore

    The policy gives border agents at any point of entry into the United States the authority to also take documents, books, pamphlets and hard drives. The items can be seized from anyone crossing the border and may then be copied and shared with other government agencies, according to Department of Homeland Security documents dated July 16.

    “Officers may detain documents and electronic devices, or copies thereof, for a reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search,” the policy says. “The search may take place on-site or at an off-site location.”

  23. shufflemoomin says:

    All this will do is inconvenience business travellers and drive tourists somewhere else. I hear Canada is nice at this time of year…

  24. johnva says:

    This is just stupid, and the justification of looking for “contraband” is nothing more than a flimsy rationalization. Hint to U.S. government: it’s not possible for you to stop the flow of illegal data into the United States.

  25. InThrees says:

    @The Rude Bellman:

    That would otherwise be an excellent joke, but it’s been applicable too many times in the recent past.

    People use phrases like “…trample on the consitution” and others just dismiss it as fiery and extravagant rhetoric, but the truth is NO, IT’S HAPPENING.

    The lack of a hue and cry is really disturbing.

  26. bohemian says:

    There are already problems with the TSA’s policy and laptops from other government agencies. The TSA thinks it can seize encrypted laptops belonging to other government agencies. Other government agencies say no way but the only recourse those employees have is a pack of papers showing that other agencies don’t have privy to the data at their agency. I’m waiting for some massive pissing match between govt. agencies when the TSA decides to seize a laptop belonging to another agency.

    @dasunst3r: This is my biggest fear. I don’t have the extra dough hanging around to replace my laptop and cell phone. This is more of an issue that the TSA morons wanting to play voyeur on my laptop.

  27. Hairyback says:

    You might as well throw it to a bunch of monkeys. These clowns couldn’t get a job at the post office.

  28. Munsoned says:

    @InThrees: DHS cat says: No, you can’t has Fourth Amendment. Not yours!!!

  29. CaptJax says:

    How does the fourth amendment not apply in these cases…

    Great, they’ve found violent jihadist materials and child porn, but they’ve done it at the cost of the constitution.

  30. The_Gas_Man says:

    Senator Feingold is anything but kickass. But I’m glad he’s trying to introduce this legislation.

  31. johnva says:

    @CaptJax: It doesn’t apply, according to the courts, because they claim it’s exactly the same thing as searching your bag when you cross a border. They have unlimited power to search without a warrant during border crossings. But this is an unprecedented expansion of the scope of these searches.

  32. johnva says:

    @The_Gas_Man: Senator Feingold is one of the only Senators still standing up for the Constitution.

  33. JackHandey says:

    This combines the juvenile incompetence of the Geek Squad with the corrupt authority of a police state.

    Please write your representatives about this! (I will.) This kind of BS needs to be squashed immediately. If everyone who wrote a complaint on a blog instead wrote to their representatives, then we might stand a chance of getting this changed!

  34. DoctorMD says:

    I am going to take my old laptop put a bunch of files on called, “dirty bomb plan”, “emp weapon”, “6 year old orgy”. But each file would actually be the fourth amendment (probable cause) repeated and encrypted the best I could. Let them waste months trying to crack it. If thousands of people did this they would eventually have to give up searching laptops.

  35. rellog says:

    Ok, no child porn supporter here…. but WTF does child porn have to do with terrorism? How long before they start using this technique to start illegally searching for other crimes? Is the info they gather even admissible in a court of law?
    Just wait until the RIAA and the MPAA get a hold of the TSA and then all songs copied from CDs to mp3 players will be confiscated. Not to mention those Divx files that you had on your laptop to watch on the plane.

    My only solace is that we will have a new president soon, hopefully either one of the candidates hold the constitution in higher regard than Bush and Co.

  36. rellog says:

    @The_Gas_Man: Feingold has both an outstanding record and is nearly beyond reproach with regards to ethics. Especially with regard to his votes against the Iraq war and the Patriot Act… both complete fuck ups.
    IMO, his is without question “kick-ass.”

  37. rellog says:

    Bushs’ fuck ups… not Feingolds…

  38. CaptJax says:
  39. eyv says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: If something takes more than three months to decrypt, you can be reasonably certain that it will take more than three years.

  40. @InThrees: @brent_r: @The Rude Bellman: @Munsoned: @CaptJax: I hate to burst bubbles, but the FIRST congress said, concerning the 4th Amendment at Borders:

    “”That searches made at the border, pursuant to the longstanding right of the sovereign to protect itself by stopping and examining persons and property crossing into this country, are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border, should, by now, require no extended demonstration.”” [www.law.cornell.edu]

    Now I know I probably should, but I’m not sure exactly when they said that. But since the First Congress met from 1798-1791 during President Washington’s(1st President, BTW) term, I’m guessing these people were familiar with the Constitution, considering most of them signed it, or were around when it was. Unless you want to admit that the TSA and DHS and Bush Administartion has developed time travel, and thus gone back through time to make rules that they would like, this can’t be blamed on them. If you want to blame anyone, blame the people who started this country.

  41. rellog says:

    @CaptJax: Thanks for the link… I however do not need it since the “kickass” senator is my representative… :)

    There are plenty of Congressmen from WI that would fight to keep this though… Fatbastard Sensenbrenner being one of them (no my rep… anymore thank god!)

  42. rellog says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: It makes no claim on confiscating said material though does it? No one says they shouldn’t be able to search people, but confiscation of materials is a completely different circumstance.

  43. @eyv: Have you ever heard of a backlog? If the computers they use to decrypt are busy on another project, you should expect a little delay on processing a job. If it takes two months to decrypt a certain amount of data, and there are two months worth of jobs ahead of it, then it’s hard to get it done in three months, eh? I blame this on the CSI effect. People expect DNA to be completed in 20 minutes and everything to run smoothly. Things break, and much of these processes depend on human interaction, and we certainly aren’t the most efficient species.

  44. @rellog: “examining persons and property crossing into this country”. While not a expert, evidence isn’t usually left in the control of a suspect. If someone shoots someone with a gun, or is suspected, do you leave the gun with them while you investigate? If you suspect there is something hidden on the computer, do you say, “I’m a border guard, not a certified forensic computer technician. Can you bring this computer back here next week when he stops back here? But you have to PROMISE that you won’t change or delete anything. Come on, pinky swear!”

  45. Trai_Dep says:

    Good to see the Republicans value individual rights and privacy. /snark
    Even if we get a Dem President for the next four terms, it’ll take longer to weed out the entrenched tinpot dictators populating the TSA.
    Before the defensive whining commences about how it’s not the Republican’s fault, keep in mind that the TSA was founded by a Republican-led Executive Branch and okayed by a Republican-led Congress and headed by – you guessed it – a Republican appointee.
    Yet another example of the GOP uttering empty, pretty phrases then doing the exact opposite. Stunning that their followers fall for this again, again, and again.

  46. CaptJax says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Search me all you want! Hell, search my laptop… Feel free, but don’t keep it for THREE MONTHS!

    And don’t act like people are stupid because of the CSI effect. You can have your cursory look at my laptop but you don’t get to keep it, backlog or not.

  47. CaptJax says:

    “While not a expert, evidence isn’t usually left in the control of a suspect. If someone shoots someone with a gun, or is suspected, do you leave the gun with them while you investigate?”

    And you’d also detain the suspect because they’re SUSPECTED OF SHOOTING SOMEONE! In these cases, you don’t have to be suspected of anything, just a guy with a laptop… Call the FBI.

    Pick a better analogy.

  48. @CaptJax: I admit I don’t watch CSI much, but when I watch the occasional episode of CSI:Wherever, they usually confiscate a computer to check into it. They don’t have Brass or Ackley tapping away discovering anything hidden. Should we expect the average beat cop to search a computer? Would you trust the average border guard to go digging around your data w/o messing anything up? Would you expect them to find anything that was hidden with even half a damn? I can make files invisible on a computer that your average person wouldn’t find. Give that to a trained technician, or hell, even a Geek Squad agent, and they will find it. What if the data is in another language, and requires translation? Do you expect someone who is versed in many languages to be working at every border? Look, if we had a C-3PO and a R2-D2 at every border, then yes, it should be done quickly. But we don’t.

  49. atrixe says:

    I live in the United States. Stories like this make me pause to consider using my dual US/Canadian citizenship to move to Toronto.

    I’m tentatively planning on traveling to Japan next year, and the thought of having my Macbook seized makes me want to cry {I consider it my lovechild}. If I do travel abroad, I think I’ll just buy a cheap Eee PC to take with me, so that if my computer is confiscated, at least it’s not one that cost $1000+.

    All of this reminds me that I had wanted to pick up Naomi Wolf’s book The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.

  50. @CaptJax: You do not always detain the suspect in a shooting. In any police investigation, EVERYONE is a suspect initially. You then narrow down the suspects. If my neighbor was shot, and they came over and asked if I had a weapon, and I said yes, they would take the weapon into evidence, even if I wasn’t a main suspect. Once they eliminate that weapon as one that was used, it would be returned.

  51. CaptJax says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: I never watch CSI because it isn’t accurate. Yes, basic computer skills is a job requirement for TSA agents. Should you expect the beat cop to be able to push the power button, boot to Windows and poke around in the My Documents folder?

    Should you expect that same cop to get a warrant before such an act?

    I get it, you have no problem with heavy handed government. You would have had no problem living in East Berlin (paper please!) That’s you, but not me. I enjoy my freedom and choose to live in a country that isn’t a police state.

  52. CaptJax says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: “You do not always detain the suspect in a shooting. In any police investigation, EVERYONE is a suspect initially. You then narrow down the suspects. If my neighbor was shot, and they came over and asked if I had a weapon, and I said yes, they would take the weapon into evidence, even if I wasn’t a main suspect. Once they eliminate that weapon as one that was used, it would be returned.”

    You clearly have no idea what your talking about. I’ve worked around shootings, robberies, burglaries and other major crimes in one of the most crime ridden cities in America for ten years and I’ve A) never heard of a suspect not getting immediately detained and B) never heard of the police confiscating neighbors guns “just in case.”

    Turn off CSI and stick to what you know.

  53. Inglix_the_Mad says:

    @srudes2: This is really crazy. What’s next?[fill in your phrase here]

    You sir, are a dirty, lowdown, turrist loving, democratic party librul aren’t you?


    I have a friend that now killdisk’s (secure erases) his hard drive every time he crosses the border. He has a couple of DVD discs with clean Windows images (2 sets of 2 discs) that he can load after going through security. Pop in the disc, run ghost, bang, clean (as in virgin w/ software, but ZERO docs) load, download need docs, and go.

  54. chrisdag says:

    I sense a new business model — renting laptops to individuals going on short trips.

    Corporate types already have access to “forensically clean”
    laptops that they can use when they need to traverse borders. I am part owner of a tiny company and even we are going to start traveling with wiped laptops.

    Good VPN and remote desktop/screensharing software actually makes it somewhat possible to work productively while leaving the company sensitive stuff back on the servers at home.

    Yes I am ashamed of my government. What used to be simple incompetence has turned much darker over the last 2 presidential terms.

  55. Difdi says:

    The next time I travel to Canada and back, I’ll be taking an OLD (working, but incredibly outdated) laptop with me. On it will be the OS, a few games, and a couple dozen encrypted files. The files will be encrypted to the limits of my ability to do so (well beyond the point of absurdity). Assuming someone throws enough computer power to break them, they’ll find one of three things. A program labeled “format.exe” that silently formats hard drives when run, a rich text version of the Constitution, with the fourth amendment highlighted, or clown porn. Nothing else will be on the hard drive.

  56. parrotuya says:

    This is unconstitutional. There is no reason for suspicion or “probable cause” when seizing all laptops and other information-containing devices. Like random drug searches, these charges should be thrown out in court as illegal search and seizure. I think “homeland security” should be disbanded and Bush & Cheney impeached, followed by war crimes trials in Europe. “Heckuvajob, Brownie, heckuvajob!” Oh, and Chertoff should be waterboarded!

  57. drjayphd says:

    Just imagine what draconian Torquemada-esque searches they’ll devise once they realize even more ‘dangerous’ and ‘violent’ material lurks within people’s minds.

    See, when I see that, I think of that guy on Oz, and I doubt that TSA is going to start slipping everyone D-Tabs. I mean, if someone gets up in the middle of a flight and starts ripping their skin off, I don’t see any of the flight attendants stopping them. Especially if they’ve got a chronic autoimmune disorder.

  58. johnva says:

    @parrotuya: According to the courts, they don’t need probable cause or suspicion to do it if it’s done at the border crossing. I agree, it’s absurd. But it’s not going to change unless we get the law changed to outlaw this practice. But the state of the law right now is that this is perfectly acceptable.

  59. agb2000 says:

    American citizens should be immune from this.

    Also, can we please just get rid of the Department of Homeland Security? It’s a huge waste of money.

  60. johnva says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: You obviously don’t know much about encryption. The government can’t just “decrypt” something by throwing lots of computing power at it. If the encryption used is strong, there is no amount of computing power available to anyone in the world that could do it. The only possible way they could it faster is if the government knows about mathematical weaknesses in the encryption that no one else knows about. While that’s possible, it’s somewhat unlikely. And keep in mind that the government says that these publicity available encryption algorithms are acceptable for use in protecting top secret classified information. If they thought there was a weakness, they wouldn’t risk their own information on the encryption for fear that some other government would also know about the weakness.

  61. P_Smith says:

    “The person in the street shrugs, ‘Security comes first’,

    But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

    – Bruce Cockburn, “The Trouble With Normal” (1984)

    The George Putz administration is showing its true colors – red, white, and black.

    The real kicker is, most of this theft by the Junta is probably done to steal uncopyrighted information from individuals and small business so they can give it to their cronies in big business who will steal and use the other people’s work. If you think that wouldn’t happen, I’ll tell you that it’s happened before:


    Scroll down to the paragraph that begins, “Perhaps it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds,”.

    And note that the article was from 1995.

  62. hoofedblacky says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: In Canada, customs has a similar ‘ability’ within the last 3months or so of implimenting it, they have caugt 5 truck drivers with CP on their laptops (just at the boarder in my town)

  63. johnva says:

    @P_Smith: Yeah, I think that industrial espionage is almost certainly a major motivation for them expanding the scope of these invasive data searches.

    The really stupid thing about this is how short-sighted it is. We cannot control the flow of data into this country, period. Even China and Myanmar can’t successfully control the Internet, so why on earth would it work as a means of thwarting contraband to copy the data off of laptops? All this will succeed in doing is making things a pain in the ass for business travelers (especially foreigners) and make the U.S. an even more unattractive place to visit than it was before. Everyone will just go to Internet-based means of carrying data, and soon these searches will become useless. This is a fishing expedition, nothing more (and maybe a means of intimidating our own citizens, as a “bonus”). It’s not a reasonable way to stop terrorism or child porn, unless we’re talking about really stupid smugglers. Industrial espionage is a more plausible explanation for why they are doing this than terrorism or child porn are.

  64. @CaptJax: I’ll give you an accurate example. A man is found shot in a building. The building has security provided by armed guards. Not everyone has a confirmed alibi during the window of time when the death occured. Do they arrest every guard? No. Do they check their weapons for discharge? Do they check ballistics if it was of a similar caliber to the murder weapon?
    Another example. A man comes home to find someone stabbed in his house. He came home w/ his wife after a party and discovered the body. He has an alibi. Do they arrest him? No. Do they check all the knives in the house for possible evidence?

  65. unohoo says:

    So what they’ll prevent is legitimate electronics from crossing into the US. What’s to stop a terrorist from mailing the encrypted material? In the meantime, business travelers and tourists will be the ones caught in the net.

  66. forgottenpassword says:

    So i take it this is yet another way to punish surly travelers who have to put up with idiotic TSA/DHS Policies? Just confiscate the laptop, throw it on the pile in the back room & say “you’ll get it back when we get around to searching it”. I wonder how many will end up broken or lost.

  67. johnva says:

    @unohoo: Yep. That’s why I don’t really believe their statement that it’s about terrorism or even child porn. Maybe it will catch some really stupid smugglers of that sort of material, but I imagine the bigtime terrorists and such are already avoiding bringing this stuff in on laptops.

  68. CaptJax says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Your examples are not accurate with how a crime scene is managed, but again, you’ve been watching too much TV and have no idea what you’re talking about.

    But there is a fundamental difference with your examples and seizing a laptop in the airport. In your examples, there was a crime committed. When your laptop is seized, you’re just a guy trying to catch a flight.

    Since your examples are not relevant to the topic at hand, you should try another tactic… And really, you should take a couple of CJ classes and find out how criminal investigations actually work.

  69. @CaptJax: Actually, when your laptop is seized, you’re a person entering the country. Not someone trying to catch a flight. You may have caught a flight, but you are now entering a country, and are thus bound by it’s laws. Unfortunately, in the united States, one of the rules is that you may have your person and possessions inspected. If you don’t like the rules, don’t enter the country. It is not as if they have all of a sudden changed these rules. They have been in place for over 200 years.

    I may speak from knowledge tainted by TV, but I also speak from personal experience. My Father was suspected of murder. Before he was arrested(and eventually acquitted), they took his sidearm and nightstick into evidence. This was also done to other officers who fit the general description of the person who committed the assault. I will admit I have never been at a crime scene during an investigation. From what I learned during the few courses I took in college (taught by current and former officers), I thought they said that they tested items located at the crime scene which could be the murder weapon. I guess I remembered wrong.

  70. JackAshley says:

    Welcome to the Land of the Free…

    It’s a free country, remember? Or is it?

  71. iMe2 says:

    @JackAshley: Remember, freedom isn’t free. Only if we’re properly protected are we truly free. Under fascism.

  72. johnva says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: No, these rules have not been in place for 200 years. Yes, they have had the right to search your papers and such for that long…but this interpretation that they can copy the contents of all your electronic data for later analysis is a new and chilling development. In the past, people could carefully review paper documents for private information that they didn’t want the government to see. But now the fact that they are imaging laptops opens up the possibility of large-scale inadvertent data leaks that are unprecedented in scope. For example, lots of Web browsers cache content they visit. The government thus could now have access to every webpage someone has visited, including private pages from secured corporate intranets.

  73. karmaghost says:

    @snowmoon: How is 3 months reasonable?

  74. @CaptJax: I forgot another example. On my farm, someone was stepped on by a horse, and received a pretty bad laceration to the abdomen. This occured while trying to remove a halter from a horse, and there were knives present. I made the 911 call, and during the call, I said it could possibly be a knife wound, b/c I have been trained to give any information I may have to 911 to allow them to be informed before they arrive on scene. I also said that a horse may have stepped on the victim. The ambulance arrived (a police ambulance, BTW) and the person was taken to the hospital. A local Detective arrived on the scene. While the paramedics insisted that the wound WAS NOT caused by a knife, the Detective believed it was. Even though I was not in the paddock at the time, my knife, as well as one of the people in the paddock at the time, was examined by the Detective. In fact, even though the victim said she was not stabbed, as well as the medical personal who examined her, the detective questioned the other person in the paddock(whom he thought of as as a suspect), as well as myself . No one was arrested, although, as I said, both knives were taken from the owners possession, and examined by police and “ruled out” as the “weapon”.

  75. CaptJax says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: You are just a guy trying to catch a flight… Have you ever left this country? Unless you live in New York, Miami, LA or SF, you’re most likely trying to catch a connecting flight after clearing customs.

    Again, search my laptop all you want, but you have no right to seize it. If I’m an American citizen entering the U.S. in an airport or at the border, I should be protected by the fourth amendment, regardless if there’s a law that has been around for 200 years.

    Your fathers stuff should have been taken as evidence. They were making an arrest and needed his gun and nightstick to prove their case. If he was with a group of people, their stuff is going to get taken too. They are suspected of a CRIME and that’s the difference between your examples and airport/border seizures.

    In the airport or at the border, there’s no crime suspected, no probable cause for searching and no warrant for seizure. Yeah, I want some TSA dope to have that power…

  76. johnva says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: It’s astounding to me that you don’t see a difference between searches based on a suspicion and searches that are completely random in nature.

  77. CaptJax says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Feel free to continue to use crimes or the possibility of crime as justification for laptop search and seizure to occur. Last I checked, crossing the border or walking through the airport is not a crime.

    If there’s a crime, then there is probable cause to investigate. Probable cause of a crime must be present to investigate, get a warrant, take property, or make a simple traffic stop.

    Your examples are not valid and do not apply.

  78. johnva says:

    @CaptJax: The thing is, as much as I disagree with what they are doing, the courts have consistently ruled that border searches, even with no suspicion, are constitutional. So it’s totally legal for them to do what they’re doing, unfortunately. It’s terrible public policy, though, given that it will do nothing to stop the flow of contraband data and it hassles and invades the privacy of legitimate, law-abiding people much more so than criminals. What we really should be working for is for Congress to pass a new law placing some sorts of limits on laptop searches. Maybe they should be allowed to do a manual inspection with you present, and then do a more thorough search ONLY if they find something suspicious. NO copying of data should be allowed without suspicion, in my opinion.

    Sadly though, I’m cynical about anything like that ever being passed. The Republicans are gung-ho about destroying what remains of our civil liberties and privacy rights, and most of the Dems either agree or are too afraid of the weak on terror charge to do anything about it.

  79. @CaptJax: If I’m an American citizen entering the U.S. in an airport or at the border, I should be protected by the fourth amendment, regardless if there’s a law that has been around for 200 years.

    The fourth amendment has also been around for 200 years. Do that mean it too is something to be held w/no regard? You can not be both subject to and exempt from the same right. This particular subject has already been examined by the courts, the ninth circuit court in particular, and found to be correct in the way it is being applied.

    As for there having to be a crime or possible crime to affect a search and possibly a search, this is not true if you CONSENT to the search. By leaving and entering the country, you are consenting to the search. This is considered a part of customs, so you must complete this step to “clear” customs.

    @johnva: Random searches are allowed, as long as they are random. The same reason you can set up a road block and search every third car, every truck, or trailer for violations is why you can do this.

  80. johnva says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy:

    I’m not arguing that they aren’t “allowed” to do what they’re doing. I’m arguing that they SHOULDN’T do it, even if it’s technically legal, because it violates our privacy rights. I’m not against random searches at the border, but I object to the unlimited scope of this (once your data is copied, they can search for anything) and the obtrusive way in which they are conducting the searches (taking the laptop away from you for a long period of time).

  81. Inglix_the_Mad says:

    @johnva: @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy:

    Here’s the trick, it’s legal (letter anyway) but is it morally in-line with the 4th amendment. One thing history is going to look back on this time for is the irrational fear a couple of idiotic, inept, and foolish killers that caused America to shred the vital documents that make America great. Unless you’re a moron, you’re not going to keep sh*t on your laptop that’s illegal. What they will catch, in the dragnet, is a lot of personal info (want to bet that any decent looking naked / sex pictures or movies are copied off for the employee’s personal enjoyment / internet upload?). How long until we have this come back and bite the TSA in the a$$ because an agent is compromised and hands personal info over for an identity theft ring? How long until we find a business alleging trade secret violation?

    This is all just a mess, and just as unnecessary as the idiotic fluids ban. Great idea that was, right? Nope, completely worthless and a feel-good measure just like most “security.”

  82. LJKelley says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Another stupid example that is not related at all, but I guess it shows a stupid cop that won’t beleive people including the victim and eye witnesses. Regardless he didn’t confiscate something.

    This isn’t about a crime, this is about searches outside a crime. I don’t have a problem with them searching my laptop in the same manner they search my suitcase. This is beyond a search, this is consfiscation expensive electronics. They can hire a computer expert for each major international hub. Duplicating data also is a copyright offence (nobody is above the law) and I think their punishement should be too manually with pen and paper they must duplicate any books they seize in any language.

    Good business and terrorists are immune is the sad point. My dad for example has never had data on his laptop but always does a VPN and ActiveDirectory.

  83. eyv says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Hate to start a flame war, but do you KNOW how encryption works? It’s unlikely that anything confiscated today can be decrypted within the next 20 YEARS without significant improvement in computing power.

  84. iMe2 says:

    @johnva: I don’t think many TSA searches are “random.” They call them “random” but for some demographics they’re anything but.

  85. IvanD says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: I wonder what laptops looked like 150 years ago!

    The issue is not that people are being randomly searched–that HAS always happened and is acceptable. The issue is that the government is able to KEEP a copy of what they search and also deprive you of possessions–even if for a short period of time. Let’s extend the argument to another situation that I think nobody would argue is acceptable:

    What if the government knew that cars could be fitted with secret compartments to hide drugs–a very plausible and common reason to search a car at the border. Now what if they wanted to randomly search cars… not suspicious ones, just random ones. And to do this, they require one week and so you must leave the border crossing without your car. Would you say that is an acceptable cost to pay for the war on drugs?

  86. CaptJax says:

    @johnva: The good thing about living in this republic is that we can litigate our way around this. 200 year old laws have been routinely reexamined to bring them up to date with the modern age, as this ruling should be. I totally understand your cynicism.

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: No one is arguing consent to search… If I’m traveling across a border I’m okay with getting searched. A reasonable search does not entail having your laptop seized and your data stolen.

    If you seize property, as you mentioned in your several examples that do not apply, you need a warrant and probable cause of a crime.

  87. ILoveVermont says:

    Scenario: Young man, dark skin, beard – not suspicious. Carries encrypted iMac – the laptop meets our profile! Seize it!

  88. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    “Customs Deputy Commissioner Jayson P. Ahern said the efforts ‘do not infringe on Americans’ privacy.’ “

    In CHINA perhaps. Welcome to Amerika.

    Post your opionions now, while you still can.

  89. othium says:

    A good friend of mine worked for my hometown as a computer support specialist and was often tasked with breaking encryption on suspect’s computers. He used different software tools to get around password and brute force methods on the weaker ones. The local police drug task force had him download any Intel and burn it to a DVD, along with the login names and passwords for online chat programs which they used to ensnare other alleged criminals. It was quite interesting to hear how these officers were breaking into and searching through suspect’s computers without a warrant in many of the cases. Very few had used strong encryption so most were very vulnerable and the police were able to peruse bank transactions, chat logs, and browsing history as well.

    I had my friend check my computer to see if it was possible to “crack” it (I use Truecrypt on my entire hard drive.) – he told me it was still possible for the government to get access to the information on it, but it would be very difficult and expensive.

    Everyone should use encryption these days, to prevent the government from poking around in personal computers without a warrant. It’s sad to have to lock up one’s files, but unless someone reels these overzealous agents back in and forces them to respect and obey the Constitution – it is an absolute must to ensure personal privacy.

  90. forgottenpassword says:

    “Scenario: Young man, dark skin, beard – not suspicious. Carries encrypted iMac – the laptop meets our profile! Seize it!”

    Scenario: Middle-aged, Fat, dumpy looking white guy – not suspicious
    Carries laptop = (obvious pedophile) Seize it!

  91. synergy says:

    Well. Their claim that they can detain law abiding citizens without any provocation or justification themselves leaves this as not surprising.

    Now what to do about it?

  92. johnva says:

    @othium: Sorry, I just do not believe that it’s possible for the government to get the information on a completely encrypted laptop with strong encryption and a lengthy random password. If they can’t guess the password, they can’t get it.

  93. eyv says:

    @johnva: Recent research shows that anyone can, not just governments: [en.wikipedia.org]
    Also, there are efficient methods for finding cryptographic keys in memory. Sorry, don’t have the reference for that.

  94. Charles Duffy says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: So they copy the encrypted container and crack it on their own time. That’s no excuse for keeping the hardware for a period of months; one can hook an encrypted disk up to a dedicated piece of duplication hardware and have a copy (encrypted the exact same way) in minutes, which one can then crack at one’s leisure.

    That said, this kind of search is unjustifiable without some kind of reasonable suspicion. I travel out of the country from time to time; I don’t want business information copied by the country I’m traveling to, and I don’t want my private files copied and inspected on return.

  95. EmperorOfCanada says:

    Im sorry but these days arent their supercomputers that can brute force passwords in a matter of hours? Perhaps not the ones at the airport, but still :p

  96. eyv says:

    @EmperorOfCanada: Not really.

  97. eyv says:

    @EmperorOfCanada: OK, let me be more helpful. Usually, files are encrypted with a key, which is stored on the hard drive but encrypted with a password. You can build specialty hardware to crack encryption, and you can brute-force passwords. For keys of reasonable length (2048 bits and up for RSA), the process is guaranteed (by current understanding of mathematics) to take centuries with current hardware. For *sufficiently long and complex passwords* (i.e. longer than 20-30 characters using upper and lower-case letters, numbers, special characters), the process would take just as long. Very few people use good passwords, and even fewer use proper encryption products. Fewer still use them correctly. Which means most data is recoverable. However, the data *you want* is unlikely to be recoverable. Anyone paranoid and reasonably intelligent can take steps to make their data virtually unrecoverable for decades at least. Just watch those cold boot attacks!

  98. AgentTuttle says:

    So if we print out our documents o’terror, they won’t pay them any mind?

    It’s harder to find a needle when you make the haystack larger.

    Added stupidity: – Uni of Nottingham: Grad students researching terrorism aren’t allowed to look at terrorist documents on US anti-terror gov’t sites.

  99. johnva says:

    @eyv: That is only an implementation problem you mention, not a fundamental problem with cryptography, and I’ve read the paper the Wikipedia article was referring to. They can’t get your encryption keys if the unencrypted keys were not recently in the DRAM/SRAM. So you’re still safe if your computer hasn’t been on for awhile. But it raises a good point, which is that cryptography is only as strong as the implementation (both hardware and software) and the user who operates it. Obviously there are ways that things like that, or weak passwords could be exploited. But given a good implementation and sufficient care I highly doubt they could recover it any reasonable amount of time via technical measures. Of course, they could always make your life very unpleasant if you refuse to give them a password or key.

  100. prisonplanet says:

    This problem is easily solved: have 2 hard drives. Setup one hard drive with just the OS and the Browser … add a few sites and that’s it, install this one when traveling and store your ‘real’ HD separately.

  101. If a person has given proper grounds of suspicion, by all means, take their stuff. But if they are taking things *without* just cause, that is seriously screwed up, and needs to stop right away…

  102. jgodsey says:

    i’m very confused….isn’t it easier to send data out of the country via the internet?

  103. TeraGram says:

    I suppose my tactic (when I travel abroad) will be to ensure the machine I bring with me is completely devoid of data and that any data I input with said machine is copied to some net resource such as emailing to my Google account any pictures or information that I wish to keep safe.

    cripes what a mess this has all become

  104. johnva says:

    @jgodsey: Yes. That’s part of why this makes absolutely no sense if their goal is preventing terrorism or whatever. My guess is that terrorism is the excuse and their desire to go on fishing expeditions for various reasons including possibly industrial espionage is the real motivation. For example, I’ve heard rumors that the U.S. government has assisted in espionage targeting foreign defense contractors on behalf of U.S. corporations.

  105. Hongfiately says:

    @Trai_Dep: What a wonderful world it would be if the biases we have could magially be projected onto reality.

    The TSA was created in a compromise Aviation and Transport Security Act by a Republican House and Democrat Senate. It was Democrats who demanded that the bill federalize the screeners (i.e. expand federal employees union membership). It was originally a part of the DOT, but was moved to Homeland Security upon that cabinet agency’s creation by, again, a Republican House and a Democrat Senate.

  106. johnva says:

    @Hongfiately: This story has little to do with TSA, in any case. This is the customs agencies that are seizing laptops to copy the data for no reason.

  107. RabbitDinner says:

    So much for probable cause

  108. RabbitDinner says:

    Good grief would it be admissible in court if they found all my torrent files?

  109. Techguy1138 says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy:

    Your arguments are disingeneous at best.

    You are subject to search at the border. However you can not have your items seized without cause.

    Even at the border ther govenemnt can not just take your stuff because they said so.

    Even though detainment at the border required no warrant there still needs to be cause.

    Considering the state of intellectual property law in this country making an eclectronic copy DOES count as a seizure. I would love to see this pay out but it most likely would result in a special exemption where it’s okay for the govenment but not citizens.

    This is CLEARLY against both the constitution AND the spirit of the law you mentioned. This was never a cart blanche for unwarrented seizure of items not suspected in a crime.

    I’m sorry you lack the ability to discern between a lawful detention and seizure in the course of criminal investigation and a broad series of random searches without criminal suspicion. This goes make you a prime canditate for US law enforcement.

  110. Techguy1138 says:

    @RabbitDinner: Yes, if making avaiable counts as infringement then torrent files will count as evidence.

  111. Hongfiately says:

    @johnva: Customs… created by a Federalist Congress and signed by a Federalist President! ;-)

  112. Techguy1138 says:

    @TeraGram: You know it’s easier for th govenment to inspect all of the data on googles servers. There is no govenmental restriction for data stored on a corporate machine.

    In addition because the internet is a packet switched network there is no reasonable expectation of privacy on that information on the way to and from google to your location.

  113. Techguy1138 says:

    @Hongfiately: “Customs… created by a Federalist Congress and signed by a Federalist President! ;-)”
    Dissolved by a Republican president.

    There is no longer a US customs service. You can wear the old badges in public as a toy now.

    I guess the US is just so wealthy now we no longer need a body to collect duties on imported goods. That was the reason the federalist govenment created them.

  114. Hongfiately says:

    @Techguy1138: I agree. If a foreign terrorist illegal combatant has habeas rights, then we citizens have 4th Amendment rights. My guess is this will be subject to a quietly released clarifying order in the very near future. That said, travel as thin as possible and encrypt what you bring.

  115. Techguy1138 says:

    @Hongfiately: There are certain things that as a country we are defined by. Basic human rights and property rights are two of them.

    The fall out from this type of behaviour is going to be very bad even though this is only a little infraction. At this point there are a number of federal agencies that are suspect in having corporate ties.

    The ability for the govenemnt to legally and without question copy and store information from electronic devices leaves the US govenemnt in a vulnerable position.

    What happens when a pieceof sensitive corporate information becomes stolen and a US CPB agent becomes part of the investigation? What happens of a piece of information that I am legally obligated to secure becomes public information?

    What responsability does the govenemnt have in securing what they have taken? What is the recourse for a citizen if the period of search is excessively long?

    Getting a warrant isn’t that hard. It is also reasonable to require suspicion for seizure. I can not understand why people rail againt having judical oversite and reason apply to the govenemnt. Depriving a person of property is a severe action for the govenemnt to take, yet people act like it’s no big deal.

    People would freak out if I just started looking through their stuff for no reason but if I had a badge they’d bend over backwards to give me anything, with reason or not.

  116. johnva says:

    @Techguy1138: Like I said, I think this is really poor public policy for a whole host of reasons, even if it’s “legal” for them to do. I agree that this will get ugly when this power is inevitably abused.

  117. While I haven’t travelled to the US in recent times, this is just another reason on a constantly growing list not to go there. The country treats most foreign nationals as criminals before they’ve stepped a foot off the plane… and now thinks it’s cool to erode the rights of others by being able to search and seize equipment without probable cause.

    Seriously, you would think in a time of economic downturn you’d be evaluating the need for security, the risks posed and other issues against the need for more tourists and business travellers to visit and input needed cash into the economy.

    I’ve made a point of emailing Sen. Feingold, as well as my countries foreign and trade ministers, because the US really needs to step down from this ‘it’s all to stop terrorism’ platform for justifying some of the most useless and pointless security measures known to man.

  118. johnva says:

    @thewinchester: Thanks for emailing him. I hope we can convince some more of our representatives that this sort of thing is harming our economic prospects.

  119. cyberscribe says:

    This is definitely going to have a chilling effect on legitimate business travelers.

    This practice needs to be stopped.

  120. cyberscribe says:

    One way around this, that might work for some people, is to remove your laptop hard drive before you travel, and send it via UPS to your destination beforehand.

    If your destination is a hotel, then when booking your reservation simply let the hotel staff know that a package will be arriving for you at the hotel prior to your arrival. Ask that they lock it in their safe until you check in.

    You might also keep a second hard drive with only a bare-bones OS setup, plus maybe a few e-books, or some music or movies to enjoy during your trip, and pop that into your laptop before you leave. Swap it out for the other HD (that you sent ahead via UPS to your destination) when you arrive, and reverse the process when you leave. External hard drives can also be used the same way, without the need to physically swap drives.

  121. Hongfiately says:

    @Techguy1138: I’m generally a lower regulation, government hands-off kind of guy. That said, I also don’t like it when it works the other way and corporations get too cozy with the federal government. A lot of people get their backs up about defense contracting, computing, and information transit/storage, etc., but look at the farm bill that bloats its way through Congress (both Democrat & Republican controlled) every few years. Corporations are big beneficiaries of crap like the ethanol mandate that has contributed to gas price spikes and caused huge hikes in food prices. Influential members of both parties from the farm states deserve our thanks for it.

    But I digress…

    Let me bring it back home here. You ask:

    What happens of a piece of information that I am legally obligated to secure becomes public information?

    Troubling question for DHS. The WaPo article says:

    When a review is completed and no probable cause exists to keep the information, any copies of the data must be destroyed. Copies sent to non-federal entities must be returned to DHS. But the documents specify that there is no limitation on authorities keeping written notes or reports about the materials.

    Let’s say I work for a covered entity under HIPAA. I have electronic Protected Health Information on my laptop or other portable device. Let’s assume that I’m smart and that the device complies with the Security Rule and is password-protected and encrypted. Does the mere fact that my information is encrypted make it “suspicious” enough to create probable cause. I don’t think so, but some overzealous types might make that argument based on their reading of section C(2)(a) and (b) of the policy linked in the article. Even though the data is encrypted (let’s assume that it’s strong enough to avoid timely decryption), both the availability and possession of the information has been lost for a minimum of 15 days (with possible endless 7-day extensions) unless a copy exists in another place.

    This wasn’t a well-thought out policy and the statement in section E(1) regarding handling of business information doesn’t provide guidance on how to do so. “… shall take all reasonable measures to protect that information from unauthorized disclosure.” doesn’t do anything to get my trusting heart pumping. “Depending on the nature of the information presented, the Trade Secrets Act, the Privacy Act, and other laws may govern or restrict the handling of the information.” Lovely. There isn’t a procedure referenced here. That means there’s not going to be a standard in place.

    If I travel internationally in the future, I’m going thin all the way. I may have a laptop, but it’s not going to have any data on it. Tunneling FTW.

    [Direct link to CBP Search Policy]

  122. Satoshi says:

    I would just like to point out, that it would be Customs and not TSA that would be doing this, since Customs handles people entering the country, just for all of the people thinking it’s TSA.

  123. ShadowFalls says:

    Umm… What total bull? They are not protecting anyone from “terrorism” stop rehashing the same thing over and over… Seriously, if you wanted to sneak data into the country, you would just use the internet and download it once you are in… Not to mention you could just ship it to your destination…

    There are plenty of ways in which to conceal data storage as well. They have MP3 player watches, USB flash drive pens… The list goes on and on… Don’t forget about flash memory cards. You could hide a memory card containing such data anywhere… If any of you have seen MicroSD before, you know what I mean.

    They are just using “terrorism” and “child pornography” again, as a cover to get people to go along with it. People don’t even realize they are being manipulated.

  124. Meathamper says:

    “Oh my word! That iPod has Rage Against The Machine albums! He is a terrorist!”

    /files under bullshit government rules

  125. JoeVet says:

    This is way beyond protecting the public interest. Chertoff’s own comments suggest they are looking for child pornography among other things. While child pornography is disgusting and should be stopped, probable cause and a court order are required to search for such material. This material is not a danger to other passengers so simply traveling by plane should not be reason enough to subvert the constitutional process.

  126. alysbrangwin says:

    I miss the Constitution. I hope it comes back in 2009.

  127. wdnobile says:

    illegal search and seizure was such a concern for our founding fathers that they put it in the constitution. But hear comes our republican-style Dept of Homeland Security to steal our property. Unreal.

  128. eyv says:

    @johnva: Well, it is an implementation problem, and it isn’t. Your laptop is likely to be on occasionally. The reason you take it on trips is to use it. Therefore, it’s likely that the drive key has been in RAM recently if you’re coming back form a trip. True, programs could (and now SHOULD) keep keys in DRAM for as little time as possible and WIPE them afterward, but at some point, the key has to be in RAM (I’m ignoring TPM and other hardware crypto systems). You’re right – sufficient care is critical in both writing software and using it.

  129. johnva says:

    @eyv: According to the paper on cold boot attacks on cryptography, the keys, even if they are present in memory, only persist and are recoverable for a few seconds to a few minutes. Chilling the memory chips using canned air or liquid nitrogen can cause them to persist longer (hours), but they would have to do that immediately upon shutting down the computer for it to work. Now obviously the risks are higher if you use hibernation or sleep mode (especially the latter), since the keys could stay in memory the whole time. But if you shut down your computer completely before leaving for the airport and preferably use software that blanks the keys in memory during shutdown, you should be pretty safe against this sort of attack.

    Interesting related note: I’ve read that in least one case, the government lost in federal court when someone refused to hand over an encryption key or password on the grounds that that would amount to self-incrimination. So maybe they can’t actually compel you to hand it over against your will. But I’m not sure of the actual state of the law on this, so take this with a grain of salt.

  130. bishophicks says:

    The laptop I travel with is not mine. It belongs to my company. I’m under all kinds of instructions not to reveal my password, keep the laptop secure and not allow anyone else to use it, etc. The computer is secured by password and the
    data is encrypted.

    So if I go through customs and the guy turns it on and asks me, “What’s the password,” how will he react when I say that the computer is not mine and I’ve been instructed not to give the password out to anyone? How will my employer feel when my computer, which may contain customer data like names, addresses, social security numbers and financial data (encrypted), ends up in the hands of Homeland Security for an indefinite period of time? Also, the laptop is my full time work computer. If they take it I’ll need another one in order to do my job.

    I feel much safer.

  131. Techguy1138 says:

    @bishophicks: You need to find out your corporate policy on this and refuse to travel internationally until they give you an official policy to follow.

    The answer of course is don’t travel with data that isn’t yours. If some tech puts crap on the machine in a service partition and the govenemnt finds it you get in trouble.

  132. ZzFDKzZ says:

    Why is everyone talking about TSA? In the article it says “U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” Not TSA. Not sure why there’s even a picture of a TSA guy looking at the laptop if the article has nothing to do with TSA.

  133. FLConsumer says:

    Thank God for Remote Desktop/Terminal Services/VNC/PCAnywhere. I’ve started travelling with a very clean/generic laptop. NO programs on it other than remote access and a few basic web programs. All of my data stays safely at my datacenter regardless of where I’m at. DHS wants my laptop? Sure, go ahead, scan it…nothing on it.

  134. vladthepaler says:

    Aren’t violent jihadist materials a form of constitutionally protected speech? If a laptop contains a bomb or more than two ounces of liquid, sure, confiscate it for everyone’s safety. But reading material isn’t dangerous.

  135. fluf says:

    Homeland Security = Police State for all Americans!

    Imagine your minding your own business to come a cross a Homeland Security checkpoint not at the border just in the middle of the country. And your constitutional rights… Gone! You don’t have any.

  136. smonkey says:

    There are more than a few things wrong with this. There are 2 main problems with this

    1) “The internet is a series of tubes”
    If you want to transfer any digital data you can do it over the internet just as easily. With scp, and VPN it could be arguably more secure. I’m sure any one who can find a place we internet access and get all the nasty files they didn’t want DHS to see. Until they put up the Great firewall of America this will always be a probem/solution.

    2) We inspect physical good because they could be a threat to people. If someone is bringing in sawed off shotguns, then they confiscate them. They don’t confiscate the gun keep it for 3 months to see if it is 18 inches or not. This is exactly why police can search you person but not your password protected PDA on a traffic stop.

  137. Paintbait says:

    DoHS is awesome. Ha ha ha. Everyone wave to them.

  138. wkiernan says:

    People, the idea is not to stop “child porn” (OH NOOOOO CHIIILD PORN!!!!1!) or “violent jihadist materials” (violent digital files? Give me a break, Chertoff, you utter ass.) It’s transparently obvious that nothing on your laptop’s hard drive can possibly pose any danger at all to anyone at all. No, the idea is so that a pack of sleazy of mouth-breathing rednecks in wannabe-cop suits can steal your property.

  139. Crymson_77 says:

    My laptop is encrypted out the yingyang. Good luck decrypting it DHS.

  140. Crymson_77 says:

    @ZzFDKzZ: Because DHC encompasses all of those acronyms nowadays…

  141. MrEvil says:

    Unfortunately, our checks and balances have FAILED. The President is the one that came up with this BS idea creating more government beureacracy in the name of safety that only serves to suck up taxpayer money like a Kirby and trample our Constitutional Rights. The Brain-trust in congress is so afraid of the brain dead retards scared shitless of Achmed that they’ll happily go along with the plan so long as it gives them a couple more years to collect more bribes.

    The courts should have been the last line of defense. But that bunch of morons think that the Constitution applies only under certain circumstances. NO! The founding fathers told King George III of England to piss off because they were “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” Meaning that the government has NO CASE AT ALL TO EVER TAKE THEM AWAY! That was the point of the constitution. To establish our rights as inherent and our birthright. Not graciously granted to us by Big Brother.