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Courts: Border Patrol Can’t Go Through Your Laptop At Will

By 03.11.13

“We had no choice. It was trying to escape.”


One of the creepier problems in crossing the border was the fact that the Border Patrol had the right to just unilaterally look through all your files for no reason. But thanks to an appeals court, now they can only look at the tabs you have open without a warrant. Well, unless they have a “reasonable” suspicion you’re a criminal.

Essentially, the government argued that poking through a laptop is the same thing as asking people to open up their luggage. The courts, however, made the point that:

Electronic devices often retain sensitive and confidential information far beyond the perceived point of erasure, notably in the form of browsing histories and records of deleted files. This quality makes it impractical, if not impossible, for individuals to make meaningful decisions regarding what digital content to expose to the scrutiny that accompanies international travel. A person’s digital life ought not be hijacked simply by crossing a border.

It also pointed out that the luggage metaphor doesn’t really hold up with devices that can store millions of pages of documents, so the Border Patrol needs to get its grubby hands off.

The bad news is that they can still pop the laptop on and see what windows you have open, so there’s still potentially an issue in the sense that your privacy isn’t completely protected. There’s also the small problem of the fact that “reasonable” is a bit… elastic.

But at least now we can travel with a reasonable expectation of not having every last file on our computers examined by some guy who thinks owning a comic book with boobs in it means you’re a pervert.


TAGScommon senselaptopslawssearch

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