Bill would limit homeland security laptop searches

The Homeland Security Department has declared its right to seize laptops at the U.S. border indefinitely, and the 9th Circuit court upheld their right to do so, but the Travelers Privacy Protection Act introduced Thursday is intended to curb that power.

The legislation would require DHS to form reasonable suspicion of illegal activity before searching electronic devices carried by U.S. residents. The DHS would also be required to provide probable cause and a warrant or court order to hold such a device for more than 24 hours. The bill also limits what information acquired through electronic searches the DHS can disclose, and it requires the department to report on its border searches to Congress.

Note:

  • Although I’ve heard several arguments that the laptop policy only extends the powers CBP agents have to search all items and documents brought into the U.S., others argue that the extent of searches currently allowed by DHS exceeds traditional protections in all areas (not just laptops).
  • The newly introduced bill offers protection only for information on electronic media – physical documents and other belongings are not protected.
  • The newly introduced bill only offers protection for citizens and legal residents of the U.S. – foreign visitors are not protected.
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