Feeds

Of laptops and US border searches

Feds seek unfettered access

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

The consequences of the government's argument would be that they could, at the border, seize your daughter's iPod and lock her up if they thought the songs were not licensed. They could copy the entire contents of your computer, read your e-mail, medical records, communications with doctors, lawyers, or priests. They could examine deleted files, create a database of your friends and associates, and provide any or all of this information to the CIA, Interpol, the NSA, the FBI, or for that matter, the Iraqi intelligence services. All without probable cause, suspicion, or warrant, because you had the unmitigated gall to cross the border with your laptop.

Encrypting files on the laptop would be of little utility because, if they win their argument in another border search case in Vermont, they could compel you to provide them with the encryption key. The only thing you could do is not take your laptop or wipe it clean before you come back.

The consequences of the defendant's argument are likewise unappealing. If the government could not search computers at the border (or needed reasonable suspicion, which they don't need to search luggage), there is some merit to the argument that the computer will become the medium of choice for transporting contraband (although it's still easier to simply e-mail it to yourself.)

Luggage or laptop?

The government's argument is predicated on the assumption that a laptop is no different from any other container. Yet, that assumption is simply is not true.

Computers contain vast quantities of confidential and private information, communications, and relationships, for which most people would agree should be maintained with a reasonable expectation of privacy, even when they cross the border. While all of this information is entitled to legal protection against unreasonable (e.g. warrantless) searches by the government inside the country, some of it is entitled to even greater protection. Stored electronic communications, privileged materials, trade secrets, financial records, and other information are particularly protected against government intrusion.

While most people do not travel internationally with a copy of every chat they have ever had, or every Facebook friend's picture in their Samsonite, or every picture they have of their boyfriends or girlfriends, they have exactly this information on their laptops. They have their checkbook information, passwords, financial records, medical records, correspondence, records of books purchased, Web sites reviewed, and more. In short, communicative and expressive materials.

In 1958, the State of Alabama required the NAACP to provide it with the names and addresses of all of its members, a requirement that the Supreme Court held violated the expressive and due process rights of the organization. Yet, according to the current government's argument, if this information was contained somewhere on a laptop computer traveling across national borders, the information could be accessed, copied, and entered into a central depository, even absent of any evidence of criminal activity.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Next page: A compromise

More from The Register

next story
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.