Monday, August 11, 2008

Laptop Searches Update

On July 31, the Securing Our Borders and Our Data Act was introduced by Representative Eliot Engel with Representative Ron Paul on as a co-sponsor. Here is a press release on the bill, which is intended to limit Customs & Border Protection's authority to search digital data without reasonable suspicion that the data holds evidence of a crime.

Here is the full text of HR 6702.

This is an interesting issue that seems likely to dog CBP for a while. I think it is safe to say that your average American does not understand the current law on border searches. I also suspect that many would be outraged if they did. That said, the Supreme Court has been clear in stating that border searches are reasonable because they are border searches. Unless Congress acts, people better be prepared to turn over their data when they arrive in the U.S. As the wise man once said, if you would not want the information on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, you should not carry it across the border.

All that said, I do wonder about what is actually happening at the border. Inspectors have a lot of discretion in deciding who to search and to what degree. I have no reason to think that CBP is abusing that discretion. But the media seems to have latched on to this pretty tightly. It seems like CBP needs to get out ahead of this on the PR front if it wants to avoid a nasty drubbing in the court of public opinion.

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