back to article EFF and chums sue Feds over border laptop inspections

Two civil rights watchdogs today filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security after a number of travellers complained that their laptops, mobile phones and other electronic devices had been excessively screened at border entry points. Internet watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation and civil liberty group …


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  1. Steve Browne

    The land of the Free?

    Looks like it is wearing a bit thin these days.

  2. Derek Hellam


    And they wonder why tourist numbers are down? Methinks that Americans have more to fear from their own government, than external threats. I wonder if they are installing rootkits, or some form of snooping software whilst they have the laptops? I bet they are looking up all the people in the address book too. Time you guys had a revolution, us too!

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Could be worse...

    ...they might *not* have been US citizens. Think how well they'd have been treated then!

    I guess 'f*ck off' isn't an acceptable answer to the various questions?


    Yet more reasons not to travel to the US. While I may have travelled there in the past, now it really isn't worth the hassle. Luckily the customers and their money are quite capable of making the flight in the opposite direction so not travelling is still an option.

  4. TranceMist

    Password Protect

    I'm just wondering here... most people don't even bother to password protect their user account on their laptop, let along access to their email (Outlook, Thunderbird, whatever).

    If you password protect access to your laptop (i.e. login screen with password comes up whenever you open the laptop) and also the same for your email client(s), then what?

    They can't get into your laptop without your password or breaking in. If they access it without your permission is this an illegal seizure? Or will they claim "probable cause".

    Or will the DHS try to get around all of this by claiming that the constitution does not apply to them?

  5. Iamfanboy

    I know at least ONE of their standards...

    They don't like dirty Japanese comic books. I kid you not.

    One of my loose acquaintances almost got his laptop confiscated because he had a Japanese hentai manga he'd been translating on it - he does translations for cash and just happened to be doing one while traveling on vacation.

    He meets the border patrol and thirty hours later, he gets released with his laptop because they grudgingly admitted he hadn't really broken any laws. We think their main problem with it might not have been that it was a dirty comic book, but that it had some, ah, incestuous overtones - a not uncommon thing in that sort of book from Japan.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They Ain't Just Being Questioned

    Their laptops and PDAS are being siezed, and the contents are being copied.

    You'd better hope the DHS has better data safeguards than the UK Government:

  7. Anonymous Coward

    @ Steve Browne

    That "Land of the Free" stuff is just a song now.

    We stopped that a number of years ago. Taking away freedoms is as simple as putting two numbers together. Utter "9 11" and there is a gasp, nodding, and then all is well, nothing to see here.

    (posting AC because I'm stuck living here)

  8. kain preacher


    password protected ??? are you kidding me. THe first time some refuse t o login to their lap top they will detained. Only criminals use pass words and encryption

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  10. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Remember: you are at the mercy of the TSA

    From other people's experiences, even Americans have no constitutional rights in TSA-land; us foreigners stand no chance if a screener decide he doesn't like our face/race/t-shirt. When entering the US of A, a free ticket to Gitmo is always an option; If someone feels particularly brave, and a has a few days to spare, try putting a "Bin Laden for President.doc" in your Documents folder and see what happens.

    Next time I go there, I'll be sure to encrypt all the documents (read: pr0n) on my laptop and shred caches, browser histories and anything that could be possibly construed to be anti-American or might break the laws made by the bible-thumping politician of the month.

  11. Stu
    Black Helicopters

    @"Land of the Free"

    One of the first things a kid learns here in the U. S. and A. is that the contents of a box commonly has nothing to do with the labels on said box. So I guess the answer to the question, "O, say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave o'er the Land of the Free...?" is "Does it still wave? Yes. O'er the Land of the Free? No."

    Ben Franklin warned us 2 centuries ago about this when he wrote, "He who would trade liberty for security deserves neither". Or maybe it was Mark Twain. Judas Priest?

    So, I guess I will place FreeCrypt on my laptop before taking it on my next road trip.

  12. Ishkandar

    And it came to pass

    that the long-foretold Fortress America has risen from the paranoid minds of a few. And the Americans wonder why other people do not like them ???

  13. Michael Hoenig
    Black Helicopters

    @ And it came to pass...

    Please don't hate all of us; approximately 51% of us who exercised our Civic Duty in 2000 (that would be voting, BTW) elected Al Gore as our President.

    Unfortunately for the entire world, the Supreme Court of the United States (aka SCotUS) illegally overruled The Will of the People of the United States and declared(!) Shrub the Idiot-in-Chief.

    And the rest, as they say, is History.

    Be patient; in about nine months, either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will be our President-Elect, and our Government will be taking steps to restore our Country's good name.

    Personally, I'm leaning toward Barack...and it will be interesting to see who will be his running mate - we rarely hear that decision until after the Primary election period, once all the Party Convention Delegates are decided upon and the leading Candidate is declared the Party's nominee.

    November can't get here soon enough...

    Black Helicopter, 'cause I know the current (mis)Administration would prefer to declare themselves Rulers for Life, and people like me (free-thinking humans) stand in their way. Besides, my weapons are ready to take on those idiots in the event of an attempted coup.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Hell Ishkander...

    No you know why WE dont like our own Guvmint!

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Dubai is worse...

    It was reported on BBC that the pea-brain Customs twits at Dubai airport are arresting people for having traces (0.01g) of illegal drugs, or legal-everywhere-else over-the-counter medicines, or even poppy seeds (as on a bun). Four years in the clink for no apparent reason. Their leader better get these morons under control (keyword: reasonable). I'm serious considering running down to the supermarket to get a kilo of poppy seeds that might be mass mailed in small packets to various randomly-selected leaders of UAE.

    As to the USA, generate some random data and then encrypt it. Leave the resultant file in plain sight amongst the folders. Should keep the NSA crunching for years.

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  17. Jacob Lipman


    "He who would sacrifice liberty for security, deserves neither."

    -Thomas Jefferson

  18. Anonymous Coward

    World beware

    Hey, You Brits (et alia) are relatively lucky. You can choose to skip Disney World and vacation elsewhere. I'm stuck here.

    Ironically, I'm only an American because the US invaded and annexed a my country. Where the hell can *I* go to escape these imperialist dogs?

  19. wim

    @ Gavin Taylor

    Funny you mention the "being Canadian" thing.

    I went to Vietnam last year and most Americans walk around with a Canadian sticker on their backpack. Real Canadians never do that. So it is kinda easy to spot the Americans :)

    I guess not giving them your encryption key will not get you in America (unless you consider Gitmo America)

    I wonder what they would do with IMAP email (nothing stored of line) and having maybe a VPN to your home computer.

    Maybe this is the ultimate plot to develop the internet mainframe system

  20. Graham Marsden

    @Michael Hoenig

    > in about nine months, either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will be our President-Elect, and our Government will be taking steps to restore our Country's good name.

    I really, *really* wish I could believe this. Unfortunately it is even easier to believe that when the Dems get into power, they'll start backtracking and saying "well we can't remove X or Y provisions or re-introduce Z because we're not safe yet"...

    PS @Mark: I've been thinking about taking a snowboarding holiday in the USA, but not when I'm going to be treated as a potential terrorist for doing so...

  21. Remy Redert

    Data protection

    Just to annoy those dumpwits, I'd make sure to install enough self-replicating malware on my laptop as I possible can and simply use a hidden partition to hide the linux OS I normally use. After the border guards fuck their machines up (should they try to copy the contents of my machine) and find there's nothing suspicious on it (Because I sincerely doubt they'd be able to find said hidden partition) I can continue on, recover the hidden partitions and wipe the malware partition.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Michael Hoenig


    Yeah but you're right in a way, there is always hope, even if hope is all there is.

    @ Gavin Taylor:

    Canada is not much better, that's a myth (look up, say, Maher Arar). The whole shebang going on is nothing but a house of cards supported by diligent mythbuilders.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Just sayin'

    Most laptops have *removable* hard drives.

    Just sayin'.

  24. Greg

    Well, that settles that...

    I was very seriously put off America the last time I was there. Being snapped, scanned and fingerprinted on the way in was infuriating enough, but then being constantly treated like a terrorist because I had an unusual accent made me livid. Americans don't believe my accent is English because I don't sound like the "British" people on Will and Grace. Funnily enough - no Englishman I've met does...

    Am I Scottish? Welsh? Middle Eastern? (Yes, someone thought I was from the Middle East, though I'm sure they had no idea where the Middle East was.) Perhaps I'm Australian? Nope, I'm from Leeds.

    Hearing that they've lost the plot even further has only reinforced my desire to never go there again. Ever. For any reason.

    As an aside, when I was waiting in line at the airport to be scanned in as a criminal, I decided to get a little inventive. I quickly dismantled the back of my phone in order to find something sharp (Naughty me, having sharp battery contacts on a plane. Terrorists, take note!), and then scratched the words "fuck" and "you" into the two fingers they would be scanning. That should be amusing if they ever come to look me up on the system. :-)

  25. Max
    Dead Vulture

    Customs has always been teh suck

    Customs agents in just about every country have the right to inspect your baggage when you enter and leave the country; they don't require probable cause or a warrant of any sort.

    In the past the reason for doing so has been to prevent smuggling, I don't understand why people get their boobies in a twist about this; my worst customs experience was in Germany of all places.

    It'll be up to the courts or the legislature to decide if your computer is something other than a more modern suit case and if your password is something other than a modern implementation of a luggage lock.

    OH, and BTW, These Rights that you hold so dear also come with the responsibilities. Cooperating with Customs when you cross the border is one of these.

    I know that's over looked a lot these days by the masses of selfish ingrates who populate the western world, but for fucks sake you begin to sound like those morons who think seat belt laws are a bad thing; Sometimes reasonable precautions for public safety are not a reason to yell OMG! FACisM!

  26. JayKay

    sigh! why carry the data around with you?

    This just encourages us to use server based apps that keep our data and work from ANYWHERE using appropriate encryption.

    Don't keep data on your mobile device... keep it on your server or somewhere else.

    Then either rent a mobile device when you get there or download from your pristine mobile device.

    Arguing the politics of this will get you 0. Sifr.nil nowhere.more of he same.

    Work around it.


    can u say 1984?

  27. TuckerJJ

    @ JayKay

    Not sure that'll help much. A friend of mine visited the states recently - customs sat him down in front of a pc, got him to login to his hotmail, and read through his emails to check he wasn't planning to outstay his welcome. He didn't kick up a fuss as it was either that or the next plane back to Blighty...

  28. Roger Campbell

    @Jacob Lipman

    Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

    Benjamin Franklin

    The skull & cross bones because my country is being slowly destroyed by people not objecting to giving up their Essential Liberties.

  29. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Paris Hilton

    Home of the brave

    It may not be the land of the free. Was it ever? Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees in the home of the brave and the land of the free?

    It seems to be alive and kicking in Utah these days too. Of course hanging 70 yr old white women was never a national sport:

    This would never happen in Los Angeles. Not if you are a young, cross eyed white whore at least.

  30. brym
    Black Helicopters

    Taste of their own medicine

    I wonder if anyone has ever intentionally stored a rootkit or other such malware on their laptop/PDA as a gift for the DHS?

  31. David Simpson


    I take it you mean pedophilic when you say "incestuous" - just a guess since most jap porn seems to involve that particularly nasty topic.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Snowboard/ski elsewhere - you don't need the US for that.

    For Europeans there are a quite a few places much nearer than the US to enjoy the snow. Austria, Switzerland et al, places of breathtaking beauty but so nearby you could even drive there.

    Worth examining, not in the least because (a) the flights are cheaper, (b) there are less problems with carrying your gear as it doesn't have to cross the US "we've upset the planet and now everyone is after us" border paranoia and (c) in most places they speak English so you don't have to shout :-).

    As for the main topic, people with clear ego problems are put in a position where they can force their own morals on others under the guise of 'security'. To me it very clearly identifies that these people are utterly clueless - they do an extreme disservice to those that have a clue and are serious about their work. In addition, I'm sure the NSA must be grateful for all the help they get in their business of global industrial espionage. Or did you really think it was ALL just stupidity?

    However, the timing is of this "revelation" (i.e. getting it formally in print) is excellent as I'm to address an audience of over 100 VIPs and CEOs in a few days time on the topic of their personal security. *Perfect*.

    BTW, there's a rumour floating around that the real reason for Iraq was because Saddam was in the process switching oil business to Euros instead of US dollars. As the USD is increasingly underpinned with about as much substance as a sub prime mortgage this is IMHO an interesting and not quite unbelievable idea..

  33. Andraž Levstik


    I was never that much drawn into the USA and giving their recent paranoia I'm that less at that. As it stands not even at the point of a gun or threat of a loss of a job will get me to go to the USA. Infact I don't even have a passport so it would be hard to get me anywhere like that. But in some strange alterante universe where this would be possible I'd simply do as one of te above mentioned it... Any computing device I'd have along with me would be so overflowing with various malware that even touching it would be bad...

  34. Mel Carnahan

    Pastor Ted Haggard, Border Inspector

    Don't forget the anal cavity searches.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not password protected - TrueCrypted

    I might humbly suggest that you avoid the confrontation that comes from the inspectors knowing that you have password-protected data on your device, and instead use a "hidden volume" via TrueCrypt. Click "Plausible Deniability" at for more information. Best of all, it's free and works on Windows, Macs or Linux-based computers. :-)

  36. The Mighty Spang

    another reason why i wont go

    well, thats kinda covered me not going on the uni trip to the states next year. hell there wasn't much chance of me going anyway, couldn't really afford to give the lecturer to give a free holiday as it was, and the previous grilling/fingerprinting of schmucks, sorry, visitors was enough to make me refuse as it was. add to that like 6 hours in an aluminum sausage surrounded by the young idiots on my course, total no no.

    mind you i did refuse a US work placement from my old (US) employer a good few years ago now way before this current climate - they couldn't quite understand it. Hell if I want to eat globo-conglomoro-burgers and watch hollywood movies and unfunny US sit coms and speak english I don't have to travel 5000 miles for that.

    I'd love to go and see Yosemite national park (big fan of the work of Ansel Adams) and the Grand Canyon though.

  37. Paul Murray
    Thumb Up


    Whenever I meet a "Canadian", I always exclaim "Wow, a Canadian! So you can speak french?"

    Sorts out the fakes, quick smart.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, great...

    ...the people who are on the good side don't know who's responsible for the quotes they're tossing out like excited college journalists, and can't manage anything more creative than "shrub" when referring to Bush.

    Hey, I get it! A bush is a shrub! Ha, ha, ... no.

    ...and at Anonymous Coward who thinks he's in danger for posting an opinion in opposition to the government - there are two possibilities here. Either you're another idiot weakening your own argument by flailing around with ridiculous exaggeration, or you really *are* a coward.

    If you really do believe that your life is in danger if you say the wrong thing, your *duty* is to say it anyway, to attach it to yourself anyway. Shouldn't we have learned by now that safety isn't all it's cracked up to be?

  39. Jeff Dickey

    @Paul Murray

    TOUS les Américains sont pas monolingues bêtement; seulement celles qui sont en cours d'exécution ("execution" en anglais aussi) du pays. J'ai étudié le français sept ans dans école et uni. On me dit que j'ai un léger accent de Montréal - peut-être parce que j'ai survécu deux hivers y sont stationnés par ma société à l'époque.

    For the other Americans:

    Not ALL Americans are stupidly monolingual, only the ones in charge of running ("exécution" in French, "execution" is an apt English word) of the country. J studied French for seven years in school and uni. I'm told that I have a slight Montréal accent - possibly because I survived two winters while stationed there by my company at the time. (Unneeded by anybody who knows, but in that part of Canada it's apparently not unusual for winters to get to -40 or below... -40 is where F and C scales cross. You California kids can't even imagine it.)

    Satan will be building igloo skyscrapers before I so much as transit the former US with personal data unencrypted and visible. Two quotes come to mind: the John Perry Barlow quote about private keys, and Thomas Jefferson's "tree of liberty." Jefferson's America no longer exists.

  40. Greg

    Well actually Jeff...

    Though not completely monolingual, you're hardly fluent in french, though your efforts have to be praised.

    There are 8 mistakes in your two sentences that make them almost meaningless.

    In particular, the word "execution" you boast about knowing actually can't be used the way you do. At all.

    Noone really speaking french would ever mistake you for a candian-speaking french, simply because whatever their accent, they actually use the words according to their meaning and use correct grammatical constructions.

    As for everyone stupidly boasting about encrypting and all, and fighting to be free and so on, that's utter crap.

    The day the customs will ask you for your password, you'll give it. If you don't, they'll ask again informing you that you'll spend 2 days in jail and then be turned back from the country if you're a foreigner. At that point, you will give your password.

    Maybe if you're brave you'll then try and sue them, provided you're a US citizen, but no, you won't withhold your password, that's just teenager bragging.

    The only real solution is not to go there, for foreigners. Solution I try to apply as much as I can (and no, saying you wouldn't go there even at gunpoint does not qualify as a reasonnable statement: Andraž Levstik you're just as kid-like as other braggers).

  41. Anonymous Coward

    @Paul Murray

    Good try. Unfortunately, none of the Canadians I know personally (mostly from Alberta, BC, NT) speak more than a few incidental words of French. Some of them are fluent in German, however, and one even speaks Legalese...

  42. Andy
    Black Helicopters

    Mass protest

    Everyone planning to travel to ( or within ) the States should put a folder slap bang in the middle of their desktop called "Terrorist plans" with a few well chosen file names in there.

    They can't lock everyone up. Can they ?

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oil Bourse

    Yep, Brent Crude is traded in dollars as well ... and thats our borse. That you can always buy oil with dollars means that every country in the world has about a 1/3 of its reserves kept in dollars. Its a sad state of affairs when the land of the free is being propped up by the land of the great firewall.

    But its a policy that seems to be working .. I imagine it will either be business as usual or a massive crash. But with so much invested in the dollar, who would wanted to devalue it ?

  44. Law
    Paris Hilton

    RE: Mass protest

    Or can they! ;)

    I choose Paris, because she has no border controls! :)

  45. I.M.Fantom

    What about multiple email accounts?

    I have multiple email accounts. One that is used only for silly registrations for chat boards and spam lists Occasionally I check it and it curently has 3493 unread messages, all of which are spam. Let the TSA/DHS have that account to waste their time reading it.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ouch. Made it to the Front Page of

    The front page changes, so it might not be there by the time you check:

  47. WhatWasThat?

    @Who would want to devalue the "Almighty' Dollar?

    Even without referencing any conspiracy theory or twit, it doesn't matter who would want to do it - there are too many to list.

    The problem is that we are following a path ("hey - nice garden... why are we in this hand basket?") that was set years ago when we had greedy lobbyists and politicians decide to make use of an "opportunity" that presented itself on fine September morning...

    Unintended consequences are always going to be the fodder of theorists and the bread and butter of corporations.

  48. WhatWasThat?

    @Comments on CNN website

    Interesting to note - "not all comments may show for this article" when you submit them to the CNN website...

    A lot of the "its OK" posts on that article use "only bad people have anything to hide." I CANNOT BELIEVE this is still a "valid" reasoning, even for sheeple.

    If you have nothing to hide, why do you close your curtains at night? Why keep your vehicle registration in your glovebox instead of taped inside your windshield? Why not have your full name on your mailbox with full names of all residents at your house/apt/condo? Why not let the government install a program to keep your computer "safe"... and monitor where you are and what you do all the time while they "protect you" - you can never be a suspect if they know everything about you and what you do, right? Right?

    "You have nothing to worry about if you let us manipulate, uh... monitor, er... protect, YEAH, PROTECT you" - Govt.

    Remember that every person who has fought to "protect our freedoms" and "secure our way of life"... the subject of all those yellow "support our troops" ribbons, dying for corporate America's interests... are "potential suspects" every time the FBI runs a fingerprint scan... as they are added upon enlistment BY LAW...

    Govt is still "for the People", just not "by the People"... It is "Government by Paid-for Proxy, for the People, by Corporations"

    Will the economy will fall and put us all under the "mercy" of the Govt before people who care about living a life without a government or corporate handout have a chance to rally any real opposition to this?

    Yeah, I'm the one with the small horde of silver bullion (gold bullion is illegal in the US for private citizens to own and subject to confiscation, didn't you know?), food and "etc" in my "hunting cabin" next to a 1/2 acre garden. If you are not already prepared, it may be too late for you. Nutcase? Sure, call me what you like to sleep better at night on your govt issued cot in a converted sports arena...

    Good grief... should this get a "Get my coat" icon? "Flamebait"? Nope - Skull & Crossbones, baby - the last flag of True Freedom left in some places of the world...

  49. Anonymous Coward


    "Customs agents in just about every country have the right to inspect your baggage when you enter and leave the country; they don't require probable cause or a warrant of any sort."

    Baggage yes, phone: No. Except when it off. Nor computer except as a mechanic baggage. They don't have access to your papery calendar or phone book either.

    No matter how many false analogies you make up. Customs don't have any authority to your personal data over that in the passport. Nor should they have.

    If you don't see the difference, then you are so brainwashed that the difference is impossible to explain.

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