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Senator slams DHS boss over border laptop searches

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A US senator has accused the head of the Department of Homeland security of “blatant mischaracterization” over the searching of laptops at US borders.

Following an article by the Washington Post, America suddenly realised last week that border agents were pretty much free to sequester and rummage around their laptops when they were returning to the land of the free after trips aboard. Everyone else has known this for years.

DHS boss Michael Chertoff defended the policy in an interview with Wired this week, saying it was not a new program, that it was perfectly constitutional and that he had simply made the policy public so that Americans understood it. (Non-citizens, as usual, can just lump it.)

“It is on the web to say: 'We only do it when we put you into secondary and we only put you into secondary when there is a suspicion, when there is a reason to suspect something.'”

He added that he was thinking of putting in place a tracking system so that individuals could get some idea of when their laptops were likely to be returned to them.

However, Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Senator who has been railing against administration intrusions on personal privacy, took issue with Chertoff’s characterization.

According to Wired, Feingold slammed Chertoff’s statements as “misleading” saying, the policy document, “does not even mention secondary screening, let alone limit laptop searches to those cases, and it expressly states that Americans' laptops may be searched 'absent individualized suspicion'".

Cherfoff’s comments were “blatant mischaracterization”, he said, and “make it clearer than ever that as we work to protect our national security, Congress must also act to protect law-abiding Americans against highly intrusive searches”.

All of which will cheer the hearts of US civil libertarians. As for those unfortunates who are not US citizens, while all men were created equal, it’s self-evident that they will continue to be subject to the whims of US immigration. ®

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