No Liquids, No Shoes, No Privacy at the Airport

Americans have become accustomed to giving up a little privacy, and a lot of convenience, at the border in the name of national security. But when Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) releases a policy (PDF) , as they did in July 2008, which permits officials to subject travelers to suspicionless searches of their laptops, Blackberries, and other electronic devices, we believe that the line between routine and unconstitutional has clearly been crossed. In order to learn more about this alarming policy, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today with CBP, a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to uncover how these suspicionless searches are threatening the constitutional rights of international travelers.

"Based on current CBP policy, we have reason to believe innumerable international travelers — including U.S. citizens — have their most personal information searched by government officials and retained by the government indefinitely," said Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The disclosure of these records is necessary to better understand the extent to which U.S. border and customs officials may be violating the Constitution."

Suspicionless searches of laptops and other storage devices raise grave constitutional concerns. For one thing, the sheer quantity of data contained on a laptop or on personal electronic devices means that these searches invade travelers' most intimate personal documents — not to mention sensitive business information routinely transported by executives and lawyers. Do you know anyone whose laptop doesn't contain at least some information they want to keep confidential? Furthermore, by exposing all this information to government review, the policy may deter some travelers from maintaining documents that reflect unpopular or dissenting views, thus chilling the exercise of core First Amendment activities. And removing the requirement that agents first identify a specific basis for suspicion before instituting a search gives border agents unfettered power, which may easily be wielded in a way that discriminates on the basis of national origin or religion.

We'll keep you updated on what we learn, and please let us know if your laptop or electronic device has been seized or searched at the border.

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I have been seached at airports many of times and it doesn't bother me one bit. Simply because I have nothing to hide. It's only those who are trying to smuggle something illegal into the country or someone who would cause harm to American citizens that these searches affects. I drive a school bus for a living, and if I observe someone following me or I see somebody taking pictures of the school grounds or of the children themselves I notify the proper authorities. The majority of the time it's a parent filming their child on their school day, but I don't know that. When the parent finds out I turned them in for what I saw as suspiciouz activity, they have always been grateful that I am looking out for their youngster. The ones who complain that their "rights" were violated are the ones who shouldn't be near a school yard in the first place. I have no problem with these searches if they keep us safe.


The commenter states he has 'nothing to hide'. Well-good for him.

How about my company secrets? How about pending patents? It is NO ONES business except mine-especially if there is NO suspicion.
BTW-taking pictures or films isn't unlawful-if they are in a PUBLIC place.

People who give up their rights so easily have no idea of how much they may need them later.

Bill Henderson

As far as I am concerned a Homeland Security Officer is a stranger unlike anyone else and they have no right to look at private information that is both lawful to carry and important for business transactions. If it is encrypted for your security it just raises more flags for these strangers to invade your private life.

What are next, home invasion and public searches at their liberty?

Marjorie Starr

Victims of sexual assault have issues with bodily privacy, humiliation and loss of control. Flying will no longer be an option for them. It also will effect mastectomy patients and those who have some kind of implants that will set off alarms. when the airline industry starts realizing why they're losing money, see how fast they get rid of the x ray technology and random searches.

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