Homeland Security issues policy on laptop seizures


The US Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed a new policy that allows agents to seize laptops, or anything capable of storing information, “for a reasonable period of time”. Okay, so this seems normal; A government agency is declaring they may confiscate personal property. However, the strange part of this story is that under this policy, federal agents can confiscate these things without any suspicion of wrong doing or any reason what so ever. So what happens to your personal data after they seize your laptop? Apparently they share the data with federal agencies, and in some cases the private sector, as additional services such as file decryption or translation are needed. While this may seem like a major violation of privacy, it is important to note that this policy only applies to people entering the United States. However given the direction that our federal government is moving in the area of security, it wouldn’t surprise me if this policy will soon apply for domestic flights as well.

[photo: postmodern sleaze]

[via eff.org]

Comments

  1. jp says:

    and to keep them busy with decoding, deciphering and translating generate some enigmatic documents here:
    http://joerg.piringer.net/vy2ms/
    and store them on your laptop to make sure they don’t run out of work…

  2. James says:

    Just for reference (re: the “slippery slope” thing)… I think there’s ample precedent saying it’s OK to rifle through personal documents coming into the country, and also ample precedent saying you *can’t* rifle through personal documents just because e.g. you’re getting on a domestic flight.

    I could be wrong, though — IANAL.

  3. Edward Nardella says:

    Anyone means ANYONE including American citizens.

  4. jfs says:

    this is in no way a hack. cmon, if I want to read about stupid politicians making retarded laws I’ll go somewhere else. is this hackaday or slashdot?

  5. Shadyman says:

    @1:

    Then you’ll NEVER get your laptop back! >:)

  6. Zero says:

    paranoia paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me . .

    however i do believe that they should have a reason, much to the same effect that the cops need to retain someone.

    “jp” has a good idea, except take an old crappy laptop then secure and encrypt the hell out of it

    i agree with “jfs”
    !!!”””no political comments”””!!!

  7. Jerome Demers says:

    This suck! Laptop are tools and are now a very big part of our lives. Without them, we are sort of screwed. Especially for buisness people travelling.

    If I go in the states, I will remove the hard drive before crossing the line. I have a dell latitute laptop and you remove one screw to remove the harddrive. I don’t know if all laptop can do that. Or you can simply ship your laptop/harddrive to the usa.

  8. Orv says:

    There’s a distinction here that may provide some protection against this being expanded. Applying this to domestic flights would be a violation of the 4th Amendment. They can do it when you’re entering the country because courts have ruled that your 4th Amendment rights do not apply when you’re in the process of crossing the border.

  9. Alex says:

    They aren’t going to seize your laptop to look at your porn or whatnot. There was a show on Discovery of “Area 51″ and these guys were taking pictures of the place, and left it in their hotel. When they came back, the government already had taken their laptop.

    Seriously, don’t be so paranoid peoples.

  10. sam says:

    Cmon. The article says that it only applies to people coming into the U.S. SOOOOOOOOOOO? The are here and should be protected by the same laws you and I are protected by. With out warrant these laptops should not be seized.

  11. This sucks. I work in Antarctica and go through customs several times a year. They can take my laptop, they can take my camera, and my external hard drive. I can’t mail it because they go through my packages also. How are we supposed to have personal items and keep them in our possession? WHEN they take them, how do we get them back? Who is protecting us from our own government who is protecting us from everyone else? All those oppressive Sci-Fi movies are coming to mind.

  12. C.G.B. Spender says:
  13. thenameisbam says:

    from what i’ve read they can grab your laptop and such when your leaving the country as well. the problem is that the majority of people fighting this are people who the government has found child porn on the laptops, so they really aren’t helping the cause. it has also been suggested that you encrypt your drives as they cant make you give them the password as it might be a violation of the 5th amendment, but i’m not sure.

  14. JB says:

    Easy form to express your thoughts to your congresspersons here:

    http://action.aclu.org/travel

  15. Colin Josey says:

    “Apparently they share the data with federal agencies, and in some cases the private sector, as additional services such as file decryption or translation are needed.”

    I wonder how capable their file decryption goes. I’m (fairly) sure GPG or AES are good enough, but what is their current edge of strength? DES isn’t good, but is 3DES?

    Also, for fun, I just noticed that capitalization is not mandated by any code, but is just a font without capitals, as copy-paste yields capitals.

  16. M4CGYV3R says:

    I think the solution is, in whatever you do, don’t fly commercial. If the airlines are deprived of their customer base, eventually(probably not in my lifetime) they will die out of their own incompetence, and probably go around asking “How’d this happen?” ignoring the decades of alienating their clients. How can these people treat us(the customers) like such shit and expect us to keep paying them for a progressively worse service?

  17. Nitori says:

    We need to fight this crap but for now take a crappy laptop and encrypt the hell out of it.

    Hopefully this stupidity will end when the man-ape aka Shrub is out of the white house.

    Homeland Security will be remembered by history as the biggest lie of the first decade of the 21st century.

    Really important data just send it to your home computer or on a file sharing service before you enter or leave.

    It’s also a very pointless rule too many ways to defeat it such as hiding a thumb drive inside something etc.

    Ever see how small the actual memory chip inside a drive is?

    BTW on the TSA crap I been avoiding flying commercial when ever I could I think it has done me some good anyway.

    When you drive you get to see things that are normally missed and getting one a pilots license doesn’t hurt either.

  18. NNM says:

    USA has become a fascist country with no respect towards individual freedoms. If you look how empires fall, it starts with stricter laws, oppression, and constant wars. Maybe I will live to see USA crumble over itself while blaming terrorists (the witch hunt).
    Americans should really do something drastic before it is too late. Reclaim liberty.

  19. andy says:

    the article’s author writes “it wouldn’t surprise me if this policy will soon apply for domestic flights as well”, but this is highly unlikely.

    as you know searches without probably cause (such as searches and seizures of laptops and digital devices) are explicitly banned by the constitution of the united state. however, the supreme court has traditionally granted the executive branch plenary powers to conduct searches at its national borders, which include international airpots (of course, only with regards to international flights).

    similar searches conducted within the borders of the united states would be struck down very quickly in the courts.

  20. Chas says:

    If the “searches” are conducted outside of the US borders, then by what authority? Any authorization should stop at those same borders, so wouldn’t it make sense they have none, other than intimidation?
    Typical Bush Politics, Preach Human Rights, practice tearing them out of the hands of the “free.”

  21. Scott McDonnell says:

    “as you know searches without probably cause (such as searches and seizures of laptops and digital devices) are explicitly banned by the constitution of the united state. however, the supreme court has traditionally granted the executive branch plenary powers to conduct searches at its national borders, which include international airpots (of course, only with regards to international flights).”

    Right, it never happens. the good ‘ol government will come to your rescue to protect you from itself!! ::rollseyes::

  22. Scott McDonnell says:

    “the problem is that the majority of people fighting this are people who the government has found child porn on the laptops,”

    Umm, that’s called ‘propoganda.’ They just say it’s true, and well, what do you know?

    Besides, how hard would it really be to drop a few pictures on your computer while it is in their custody? Don’t be so naive.

  23. Pete says:

    It’s probably a good idea to keep sensitive/valuable stuff off the laptop anyway in case it’s lost or stolen. Find somewhere secure on the internet to keep it. Or if you must carry it through an airport, keep it on a USB stick at the bottom of your luggage.

  24. Scott McDonnell says:

    To anyone regurgitating our ‘protections’ they are missing one very important point. the government really doesn’t give a rats behind about the law. they are the law.

    they break the law every day, and if they get caught all they have to do is say ‘oops, sorry…’ and if they have to pay you off, it’s not really their money they are giving you, anyway.

    when they sweep protestors up off the streets, only to find out months later that what they did was against the law, what punishment actually comes of it? seriously? they still prevented you from your right to protest, which is all that they wanted, anyway. and they suffer no consequences for doing it, either.

  25. this guy says:

    @17: You are on the right path.

    @18: There is an international zone when you get off of an aircraft at all international airports. This is the space that is technically within our country but acts as foreign space since the occupants of the aircraft have not been identified and the cargo has not been searched. It is in this space that search and seizure (S&S) law does not apply.

    Basically, it boils down to this: If you don’t want to be searched prior to entering the country, then go back where you came from. If you are a US citizen, recognize this practice and ponder on it before deciding to leave the country in the first place.

    Seven years ago the country banded together and asked how we could have been attacked by terrorist. Most were outraged that we were vulnerable and even refused to fly on planes, etc.

    After a few years have passed, these same people want to be offended when some laws have become more strict and they really want to complain when laws that are hundreds of years old are finally enforced. You can’t have it both ways.

  26. Scott McDonnell says:

    9-11!!!!!!!! All your rights are belonged to us!! 9-11!!!

    We didn’t need new laws, this guy, every standard procedure in place was completely ignored on that day. all that was needed to stop 9-11 from happening was for the government to have done the job they already had the authority to do.

    and besides, i don’t recall the hijackers using laptops on the plan to ram them into the towers, so…. how would this law have prevented that?

    don’t tell me that i need to give up my rights to be safe, or that the government needs more laws to protect me when it was their failure to actually do their jobs in the first place that allowed 9-11 to happen. do you make it a habit of giving an irresponsible person more responsibility? does that work out well for you?

  27. O tabajara says:

    That is why I DO LOVE to live in Brazil :o)

  28. jjrh says:

    Although some of you have complained at the article not being ‘hack a day material’, it’s nice that I can get some news like this with out reading slashdot 15 times a day.
    It might be interesting if someone would write a article for the uninformed people(like I) on the proper secure way to encrypt your hdd. Perhaps I should do a search(and I will), but I do find usually hackadays tutorials/how-to’s to be more clear and informative.

    Does anyone know the laws, or what would happen if infact your entire HDD was encrypted and seized? Would you just not get it back, or would you be required to hand over the keys? What if you refused or ‘forgot’?

    Most of us reading care, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about these laws. I suppose it won’t be until some middle class family loses their laptops at the border with pictures of their trip,Timmy loses his new ipod, the family makes a big fuss and the news finally decides this is something worth airing for more than 30seconds. Then maybe the majority of the population will care.

    I sure hope policies like this don’t become accepted as the norm.

  29. Obvious Man says:

    911 indeed!

    The “terrorists” have officially been put out of a job by the USA.

  30. FireFox says:

    I do NOT understand how it is possible that the people of USA are becoming numb to these extreme violations of trust, privacy and our lives.
    Is this what freedom is supposed to be?
    US of A ; a ‘Free’ country.

  31. Scott McDonnell says:

    firefox, that is because people are lead to believe these laws really only affect other people, and that those other people are bad people.

    i have never once met a person that had a problem with taking rights away from other people if they found those rights annoying or if they just weren’t rights that they thought they excercised. this is why our country was originally designed to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.

    if you want an answer look look no further than the wonderfully effective, ‘trial by media.’ people love to hate other people, and love to assume that they wouldn’t be accused of something if they weren’t really guilty.

    the government knows this, heck, advertisers have known how to manipulate the masses for decades now. it’s so surprisingly simple, that noone believes it is possible.

  32. TheTim says:

    Anything that can store information? Would that include credit cards with embedded chips? Or how about any magnetic stripe card in your wallet?

  33. w01f says:

    Another idea, is to make your laptop a “wireless thin client”.

    This is easily achieved if you take an old laptop, a 44 pin IDE to CF card, a compact flash card (I’d recommend 128mb minimum) and the choice of these two flavors of linux.

    http:/www.damnsmalllinux.org

    OR

    http://thinstation.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/ThIndex

    slap the linux on the compact flash card and voila! you can then keep important files on a remote server and access it thru the browser.

    They seize your laptop. What they seize is nothing. since you do not keep passwords or any sensitive data on in. It’s just a “doorway” so to speak.

    The joke’s on them.

    W01F

  34. Eric Ripper says:

    @ #17:

    sure, it can’t happen on domestic flights because of our Amendments.

    and various state and local governments never set up traffic “safety” checkpoints to nab intoxicated drivers and other scofflaws, with absolutely no reasonable suspicion.

    they will physically stop every vehicle coming down the road, and make arrests from such an illegal checkpoint. of course, it has been deemed NOT illegal by the supreme court.

    they’ll implement the same policies on domestic flights whenever they feel they have scared the population enough again, or when the moronic masses of this country are paying even less attention than they already are.

  35. srilyk says:

    23: “and they really want to complain when laws that are hundreds of years old are finally enforced.”

    Do you have one single example of laws that are hundreds of years old finally being enforced? If anything there are new laws that completely violate hundred year old laws (i.e. right to privacy, protection from unwarranted search and seizure, etc. etc.)

  36. this guy says:

    @ 34: srilyk said: “Do you have one single example of laws that are hundreds of years old finally being enforced?”

    Sure. I can give you a very big one. The right to bear arms went before the Supreme Court this year. The Second Amendment is 216 years old and it was ruled, finally, this year that it indeed gives “individuals the right to bear arms”.

    Many anti-gun law folks have said they believe that the Amendment was intended for militias only. This was a landmark case and solidified something two centuries old.

    I hope that satisfied your desire for me to provide “one single example”.

  37. Ben Franklin says:

    It is not the politicians we need to worry about, but the largest employer in the country – The US government. The government agencies and their leaders are doing the same thing to the American citizen as the former leaders of Worldcom, Enron and Iridium. The politicians have been drugged with the narcotic of money by the defense contractors. They are rendered impotent. At this point in history, the government fears the non-government citizen. They will keep writing laws that steal our freedom and eventually our country away from us. The government is helpless in defending our borders from attack, but can clearly stop the citizens in their midst. For you see… they can see me, but they cannot see you…keep up your trade and your talents, stay out of site, do not betray your trade for publicity, but be prepared to defend your right to freedom. We depend on you. Don’t let us down.
    Remember your first civics lessons.

  38. sd_proto says:

    The EFF is really a great place to find more info about some
    of the gray areas of the law regarding this. More people
    should support them cause they really do try hard to fight
    the morons forcing this crap down our throats. Anyway,
    here’s a link where they answer questions about border
    searches: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/05/border-search-answers

  39. pip says:

    “Americans should really do something drastic before it is too late. Reclaim liberty.”
    Ron Paul plx.

  40. Anon says:

    So if I, a UK citizen, enters the US with my laptop and
    it is seized, how am I meant to get it back?

    Are the US government going to pay the $400 shipping fee and packaging to ensure it gets back to me safe and sound?

    What if I don’t have a hard drive in my laptop, and am just using a live CD? What evidence would they be looking for in a computer that cannot store anything?

    Bit extreme if you ask me…

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