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Senators push for restrictions on laptop searches

Probable cause, please

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Three US senators are pushing the "Travelers Privacy Protection Act" to restrict the right of US customs to search or seize laptops, iPods and other digital devices.

At present, customs officers can demand you turn on your laptop and provide a password so they can have a snoop through files. They can also seize devices to search or copy at their leisure. They can do all this without probable cause.

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed in July that officers can seize and copy data and share it with other agencies.

But the bill being introduced this week in both houses would restore people's right to privacy. Border guards will still be able to search digital devices but will need to show probable cause.

It is backed by Democrat Senator Russ Feingold, Senators Daniel Akaka, Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden.

The legislation has been welcomed by the American Civil Liberties Union and business travel groups. How much debating space it will get in the rush to get the Wall Street bailout passed remains to be seen. ®

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