In the U.S – Laptops and Cellphones are open for scrutiny

In the U.S – Laptops and Cellphones are open for scrutiny

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14520079_sU.S. border agents should continue to be allowed to search a traveler’s laptop, cellphone or other electronic device and keep copies of any data on them based on no more than a hunch, according to an internal Homeland Security Department study. It contends limiting such searches would prevent the U.S. from detecting child pornographers or terrorists and expose the government to lawsuits.

According to the Washington Post the 23-page report, obtained by The Associated Press and the American Civil Liberties Union under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, provides a rare glimpse of the Obama administration’s thinking on the long-standing but controversial practice of border agents and immigration officers searching and, in some cases holding for weeks or months, the digital devices of anyone trying to enter the U.S.

The DHS study, dated December 2011, said the border searches do not violate the First or Fourth amendments, which prohibit restrictions on speech and unreasonable searches and seizures. It specifically objected to a tougher standard in a 1986 government policy that allowed for only cursory review of a traveler’s documents.

i-HLS ISRAEL Homeland Security 

The Homeland Security report was prepared by its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Several portions of the report were censored, including three pages blacked out entirely. DHS said much of the redacted portions would disclose preliminary deliberations on the issue, which are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

The U.S. government has always maintained that anything a person carries across the border — a backpack, a laptop, or anything hidden in a person’s body — is fair game to be searched as a means of keeping drugs, child pornography and other dangerous goods out of the country, and to enforce import laws. And until this year’s ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that objected to the detention of a laptop at the border, federal courts have upheld the government’s authority to conduct random, intrusive searches at the border.

But as more Americans enter the U.S. with sophisticated computers, thumb drives, smartphones, cameras and other electronic devices that hold vast amounts of information about who they are and how they conduct business, privacy rights advocates have pressed for more checks on such authority, particularly if digital files are copied and shared with other federal agencies, such as the FBI.