back to article Senators push for restrictions on laptop searches

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 …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Dan Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Just for Merkins?

    Or are the barbarian hoards afforded some rights as well?

    Anyway, I'm sure this will soon be gotten round. Probable causes could include:

    He looked at me funny.

    He had a haircut like the man in the wanted photo on the wall next to me.

    Eyebrows too close together.

    Etc... etc...

  2. dervheid

    Probable Cause

    as in

    'cause I can.

    'cause you can't stop me.

    'cause I enjoy being a pain in the ass.


  3. Steven

    Excuse me sir...

    Can I have your password please?

    A) Erm. No.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Another job for TrueCrypt....

    Create a container with a vanilla OS, and keep your real porn^H^H^H^H sensitive data in a hidden encrypted container. When asked to boot machine, use vanilla password, and hey-ho

  5. james
    Thumb Down


    yeah its just for the merkins, you'd think they might have added that as its kind of relevant and imortant.

    if we treated one of them like that at an airport in good ole blighty they'd be spitting dummies right across the atlantic and threatening to bomb us all as terrorists - bloody fascists.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Probable cause ...

    "You are a foreigner. You are suspect. Hand over your devices and we won't shoot you on sight."

    "But, but ..."


    So happy I have neither inclination nor reason to travel to the United Soviet States of America ....

    Black Helicopters, I think I see them circling ...

  7. Jason Harvey
    Black Helicopters

    yet another reason to travel light

    mp3 player? laptop?

    no, just this old auto-reverse cassette walkman. oh, right... it might have a digital tuner for the FM radio that may not work after Feb 2009... confiscate hidden data in the music recorded on the tape? umm... right. guess I'll be taking just me clothes and toothbrush and using the hotel's/relative's/camp's toiletries. on second thought... screw it all, I'll just go home. No need to spend my money on the airlines.

  8. Jason

    Don't you just wanna

    encrypt a load of files that they will spend ages getting into only to find that they only contain one Sentence. .

    "You have just wasted the best part of an afternoon"

    - Mines the one with the USB stick in the pocket

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Just another fascist state

    Encouraged and developed by Bush, Cheney, Inc.

    "We're not tards; we just play them in Washington."

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    overreaction, scare mongers

    Probable Cause has been defined in the courts.

    I love how people are saying it will only apply to US citizens, Do you know how American law works ? the law covers ever one unless they write it to exclude visitors from other countries. So please before you make such comments, no how the legal system works . The US supreme court has ruled the foreigners do have civil rights

  11. Anonymous Coward

    we'll see.

    I'll cheer once I see this bill actually pass. I was planning to there in the while, yet all the ideas about how to hide away my all legal yet, well, personal data was putting me off a good bit.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "overreaction, scare mongers"

    The Supreme Court ruled that we all have civil rights? Oh well that fixes everything...absolutely everything...quick someone tell Myanmar...send SWAT or even better...The A-Team!

  13. Steven Hunter
    Thumb Up

    @Excuse me sir...

    "Can I have your password please?

    A) Erm. No."

    What? Oh, of course. I'm sorry I didn't realize that you were a terrorist. The plane to Guantanamo Bay leaves in 30 minutes. Would you prefer to go kicking and screaming or would you prefer our "Extraordinary Rendition" class accommodations?

  14. DZ-Jay

    Re: overreaction, scare mongers

    I think the implication of those comments was that the law would contain provisions to exclude visitors from other countries.

    >> "The US supreme court has ruled the foreigners do have civil rights"

    Yes, and the Constitution of the USA defines some rights for its citizens also, which obviously did not affect the policies of the current administration (hum, the 4th Ammendment comes to mind).


  15. Chris C

    @overreaction, scare mongers

    Ordinarily, I might be inclined to agree with you, but not in this case. Perhaps you'd like to take a look at the US court rulings for the past seven years. You'll find that many of the rulings have no basis in law, and in fact the rulings are illegal themselves. Don't confuse law with the judicial system. They are two completely separate ideologies at this point.

    Don't forget, it's the judicial branch (the courts) that is supporting the executive branch (the Bush administration) and its systematic removal of our rights. The judicial system has gone so far as to say that it does not have the power to oversee the executive branch (which is plainly wrong since that is [one of] its explicit purpose[s]).

    I think it's positively wonderful that as a US citizen, I can be stopped on US soil by US border patrol agents, and somehow am not protected by the 4th amendment of the US Bill of Rights.

    Oh, and while I can sympathize with the term "United Soviet States", it's best not to use the word "United" since we're anything but. Eminem put it best: "Divided States of Embarassment".

  16. Paul

    Just for Merkins.

    Unfortunately it does appear this is just for Merkins. I can't find the text of the bill yet, but I've seen it described that way in multiple places. It is of course understandable to be especially enraged at havering your laptop searched entering *your own* country, but there's really no justification for searching anyone's laptop.

    I do understand the logic behind searching luggage. A country does have compelling reasons to monitor what kind of items are being taken into its borders. (e.g. weapons, drugs, etc.) But I don't think the same can be said of information, for two reason. One of course is that I believe people should have the right to free speech and that no information should be regarded as inherently harmful. Other is that trying to keep information out of a country, is utterly hopeless anyway, at least unless it's a complete dictatorship. I can set up an encrypted connection with a computer in Iran over the internet, no questions asked, why the heck should my laptop be searched a the border?

  17. Pyros


    Please read the BOFH article, "Remote Access Malarky" for my thought on the "probable cause" POV.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Title needed

    Since customs agents don't think if this law passes they will be confused and apply the law the same way to every one. Now this means that they will apply probable cause to every one in fair manner (but that causes them think), or they will just saw they had probable cause to stop every like they do now.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Here's Something A Short-Buser Could Have Figured Out...

    Hot commodity at airports: TSA search notes and TSA baggage keys. There seems to be a thriving black market for 'em amongst baggage handlers.

    Friend of mine got his brand new MacBook Air stolen out of his suitcase with nothing to show but a TSA note.

    Duh. Why the HELL didn't they THINK about this?

    You guys need a dunce-cap icon.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You are actually not in the US till they "admit" you

    Interesting thing, though, is that the constitution doesn't apply to you and you don't have civil rights until you are "lawfully admitted" to the USA - that means the person who wants to search your laptop has to let you in. Nice catch-22 there.

    It's an easy argument to make that a US citizen on US soil is subject to the constitution, but johnny foreigner definitely is not. That's probably why they don't specifically include or exclude people in the law.

    Of course, any of us who travel into and out of the USA know that a) most of the border people know less about the law than we do, and b) they don't care because they weren't planning on following it anyway.

    Anonymous because I live here and have to travel in and out monthly.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    papers citizen

    And your passwords, too. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, comrade.

  22. rasputinsDog

    Linux to the rescue

    Just use linux and set it to init(3), I'd wager not too many of the ogres working in in TSA know the cli

  23. Nano nano


    DRAT - thought they were going to disallow the Indexing Service to be enabled by default ...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probable Cause

    Border Guard: Good afternoon Sir, welcome to the USA. I hope you have a pleasant stay. Oh, just one more thing sir, do you mind if I have a quick look at your laptop contents, you know, just for formalities sake?

    If you say yes, they look at your lappy.

    If you say no they have probable cause, nothing to fear, nothing to hide etc.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Re: You are actually not in the US till they "admit" you

    This is how they got 'round' the issue of rights at Gitmo! Because the "enemy combatants" never entered american soil, they cannot be given the same rights as all foreigners get when they are 'admitted' to the country.

    Long live democracy!

  26. Anonymous Coward


    "Other is that trying to keep information out of a country, is utterly hopeless anyway,"

    Past precedent shows they don't want to keep information out, they want to get more information in. It's outright amazing how many of Airbus' development notes found their way into Boeing products in the last two decades. Only they had to spend a lot of manpower getting that data. If they can just go ahead and confiscate a businessman's notebook, that's much more efficient. And before anybody says "Boeing ain't de gubernment," true enough, but they sort of do work together on a lot of projects.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    @Boeing AC

    And remember that although Boeing isn't the government, the government over there don't take too kindly to a major presige point for them (the All-American 747. Gawd bless America and her huge metal angels, etc etc) being kicked solidly in the teeth (Airbus A380, Concorde, some sort of futuristic combination of the two we're yet to see, etc).

    Meh, I'll just leave my lappy at home and either download the data when I get there or take a boot-to-CLI-Linux-flavoured laptop with Openoffice and some token notes installed with the real data safe and secure inside a micro-SD card hidden inside some unscrewable metal bit of my clothing. Hell, hack apart a GameBoy and stick pico- or (when released) mobile-ITX kit in it if you're really desperate. You could even use the original controls (hook each one up to one pin on parallel port header), speaker and screen (it'll be LVDS or TTL).

  28. Dan Gray


    If you really have data to hide you could just check in your laptop (in a nice padded bag). It will go in the hold, and it will never be searched. You just have to hope it comes out the other side - I probably wouldn't risk it on a flight with connections.

    Encryption is risky, if they find it that gives the cause to detain you and hold onto your laptop untill you give them access. The same goes for removing hard drives etc.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    init 3

    rasputinsDog - Yes, but then the grunt would say, "Blimey, what's this funny code? Better confiscate it!"

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    "before anybody says "Boeing ain't de gubernment,"

    Actually corporate America is the Government over here. 99% of laws passed in the last decade have little or nothing to do with benefiting ordinary people and everything to do with giving something to one type of business or another.

    You know, like passing a law to buy $700 billion of worthless products from a few very rich men, in return for which they promise that some vague financial catastrophe won't happen. Notice they haven't even guaranteed that things will get better, but rather we should hand over the cash and believe them when they say that without it unemployment would jump 20% over night, half the nation would end up living in tents and all high street banks will suddenly fall down and die. Kind of kicking myself really. Because I now know if I'd gone to GW and promised that if he bought $700 billion of moon shares from me, I'll guarantee the moon won't crash into the Earth next week.

    Which is why I give this bill zero chance of becoming law. What will be interesting however is to see which corporations are funding the lobbying that will kill it off. Corporate espionage carried out by US government agencies on behalf of their employers has been discovered in many interesting places. Usually the French are the only ones to actually release this sort of thing to the public, but then the French seem to be the only nation with a set of balls these days. Pretty much everyone else either tries to blow up the US or folds to its every demand.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like