back to article ACLU challenges US laptop border searches

Privacy campaigners are continuing a legal challenge against random laptop border searches by US customs amid concerns there may be a racial bias in those delayed and inconvenienced by stop and search powers introduced as part of the war on terror. The ACLU also argues that searches of mobile phones by US border agents in the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank you George W Bush

    There wasn't a terrorist attack under Bush, but there was under Obama, says Mayon Giuliani, and he should know, he was the mayor of New York when 911 happened:

    And even Dick Cheneys aids agree:

    "Mary Matalin - a former senior adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney - said: "We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation's history,"

    So when the new "Fox Republican Party" tells you that its all for your safety you should believe them, because Bush saved the economy from the deficits of Clinton, and 911 happened under Clinton, and and and.... well now they have chosen Sara Palin as the new Fox Party Foreign Minister, they are sure to keep the world safe!

    Vote Fox Republicans in 2010! Because unwarranted search is the American way!

    1. Bob 61

      UK based so don't really care, but...

      It's a troublesome distinction and an ill advised comment, but the mayor felly seems "technically" correct.

      The big name terrorist attacks have been committed by foreign nationals against the U.S. not merkin against merkin.

      It's still a pointless and shit argument mind you. Bush didn't have locals commit terrorist attacks*, so Bush is great?

      *(Lunatics who offload their weapons in schools or stalk random people and snipe them don't count. Obviously.)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Of course

        ....the Washington Sniper and Oklahoma bomber were all muslims terrorists from foreign soils weren't they....oh and the Atlanata bombings, oh and those at abortion clincs.....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      IT Angle

      Fourth Ammendment

      A short (but fair and balanced) history of the frontier for my Brit Friends:

      The original meaning of 'Maverick' is an unbranded calf. Sam Maverick had a second career in Texas as a rancher, he graduated from Yale then studied Law. Come Round-Up time in Spring, with the inevitable ownership disputes, one presumes that it was more profitable to be a Lawyer than a Rancher. Sam's philosophical heirs are Entertainment Industry Lawyers or work for Google in the digitizing department.

      Sarah "I'm a Maverick" Palin will fit right in at Fox News - an orphan belonging to the smarmiest lawyer who takes the trouble to steal her. Somebody needs to tell Sarah Palin, Fox News and Rupert Murdoch that you don't need a warrant to search the dictionary.

    3. Anonymous Coward


      It doesn't really matter who is sitting where when these attacks happen. They are the result of seeds planted long before. It has happened enough times that there is a name for it: "Blowback" (Also know as revenge)

      If you look at the major attacks against the US, and look at the history of the antagonists, you find a pattern. It goes back a long way, even before the Japanese attack on Pearl harbour as revenge for the attacks on Japan to overthrow the regime and install one more conducive to trade with the US. Sometimes the original action was overt, but often it was covert action by the CIA.

      The thing that will make the most difference (IMHO) will be when someone changes the whole philosophy. The way the US treats everyone outside of it's borders needs to change.

  2. Eddy Ito

    "Who's Next"

    "The policy was started by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama government."

    "Meet the new boss

    Same as the old boss"

  3. Anonymous Coward

    I have endured...


    ...being treated like a criminal when entering the US for several years (fingerprints and pictures being taken, questions asked about things that are definitely within the sphere of privacy). Privacy is not protected in my experience; within 2 years I visited the US at two different ports of entry, and the questions I was asked at the second place were quite clearly related to something I had said earlier, at a different place -- meaning to me that clearly, a file on me has been created which can be accessed by US Customs and Immigration officials everywhere.

    Under the laws of my country, that would be a felony: breach of the right to privacy. But no, the US step things up a notch: by now, you have to pay a fee to be processed into the country.

    Older Germans (and any visitors) may well be reminded of the procedures involved with visiting the GDR before it disintegrated. Chances back then were that your personal statistics were filed (and accessed whenever you returned), and you had to pay a set amount of money per day for your visit (that was DEM 25/day compulsory exchange IIRC -- I remember a citizen joking that that was making the GDR the largest technology museum in the world, with a DEM 25/day entrance fee).

    Now, who am I to compare the Land of the Fee (spelling intended) to that old, no-longer-existing soviet satellite state? The answer is that I am an honest person, who has been seriously mistreated by US C&I people, several times. When they got the go-ahead to confiscate (that's right, not just search but confiscate!) anything they fancy, from jockstraps all the way up to business notebooks, I quit going there. The problem being that the border hounds might impound my notebook -- and under US law, they are not required to give it back or to recompensate me, no matter what they don't find on it. There is a real worry attached to that thought: what if a border guard just simply fancies a piece of electronics, and therefore confiscates it, gets it "lost" in the procedures... and the tourist is left shy of electronics worth several hundred or even thousands of quid that may be part of his livelihood (like my notebook is to me)? There is no procedure available to stop that, or if there is (and I have tried to find one) I am unaware of it.

    My personal reaction was to simply stop traveling to the US of A. It had become clear to me that they no longer want the money I used to spend there; rather the country has begun to entrench itself in a sort of new Iron Curtain.

    And yes, I'm quite certain that this comment is going to be incorporated in my US C&I file. *shrug* I'm not going to go back there, anyhow. I hate being treated as a criminal just for wanting to spend my money somewhere.


    1. Ian Michael Gumby

      Uhm, I hate to break it to you...

      "Under the laws of my country, that would be a felony: breach of the right to privacy. But no, the US step things up a notch: by now, you have to pay a fee to be processed into the country."

      Actually no. This is not a felony in any country nor a breach of the right to privacy.

      If you can't figure that out, then you're missing more than a few cards in your deck.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        ...under the laws of my country, it _is_ a felony. I just read up on it to make doubly sure. Databases storing personal data may not be cross-linked between government agencies, and no data may be stored unless a felony has been committed; if the person whose data has been stored is found not guilty, the data is to be deleted within half a year of the end of the proceedings.

    2. The Original Ash
      Thumb Down

      Your first mistake...

      ... was going to the US at all.

      I haven't been to the US since 1998. AS best as I can tell, all I'm missing is Disney Land (which I've been to three times, before they fingerprinted you), cheese on everything, and privacy violations.

      I see nothing worth going back for.

  4. Apocalypse Later

    Racial Profiling

    Israel use profiling routinely at their airports. It works. It isn't nice and it isn't politically correct, but nobody dies.

    One has to say, given recent events and trends, that they are probably paying special attention to those with a British connection these days. We have become suspect because we ARE politically correct, and as a result, harbour many people who are radicalizing youth and promoting jihad.

  5. cor
    Thumb Down

    Civil Liberties? Monday is MLK day in the US.

    But only just. Bush wanted to have that done away with as well.


  6. Graham Marsden
    Black Helicopters

    Racial profiling...?

    ... Or just figuring who might have a good collection of porn on their laptop...?

  7. Robert E A Harvey
    Thumb Down

    I will admit

    I removed all my mp3 files of old BBC radio shows before flying to the USA at the new year, in case they were mistaken for bittorrent downloads and I ended up in gaol.

    1. Apocalypse Later

      That won't happen

      In the US they would put you in jail, not gaol.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        No chokey for you!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Everything is subject to search when crossing an international border. Always has been. Get over it or don't bring it with you.

    1. The Original Ash


      Documents are not subject to search. They are identified as "documents" and left well alone. Sealed envelopes are not opened. They are all put through an X-Ray machine to ensure they contain nothing DANGEROUS.

      No data on the hard drive of a laptop can pose a threat to an aircraft or its passengers any more than a napkin drawing of a T-Rex can bite off your head.

      1. Michael Shaw

        Airport Security and Imigration are different

        What you describe is Airport security before you board.

        When you arrive at your destination in a different country you face immigration controls. They are entitled to search anything and everything, including your internal body to determine where to allow you to enter the country.

        The cause of concern here is that the US is not requiring their officials to have reason, or "probable cause" to seize items for further examination and then not return them despite them being completely legal.

        1. keddaw

          Not exactly

          This is wrong for two reasons:

          1. They have been unable to search Americans as thoroughly as foreigners entering the country; this law changed that.

          2. They have never been able to search your thoughts, or indeed your body without due cause, and there is an argument that a hard drive filled with private email, thoughts and writings are an extension of your mind.

          Also, they have never been able to search a journalist's notes or private correspondence with confidential contacts, some of whom may be in the government, and that is now up for grabs too.

    2. The Original Ash
      Thumb Down


      Sealed documents are NOT subject to search, they are subject to being passed through an X-Ray machine. This should be the case for a laptop too. Maybe a quick boot to ensure the gubbins are actually connected to a hard disk and CPU etc (or maybe training border guards properly to identify parts in almost all laptops) would make this easier.

      If the machine itself is not a threat to the aircraft or its passengers, it should not be tampered with in any way. Plans for bombs cannot blow up an aircraft any more than a drawing of a T-Rex can eat your head.

  9. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Glad I didn't vote for Obama

    Yes, I am pleased I didn't vote for Obama -- I voted for Ron Paul. When Obama voted FOR telecom immunity* it was quite obvious to me that his talk about carrying about civil liberties was just blowing smoke up people's ass and he had in reality does not care a bit about civil rights. So far in office, he's a bit better in international relations, but he's at least as bad domestically as Bush ever was. I knew Ron Paul had no chance of winning but in good conscience I could not vote for someone who does not care about a constitutional government.

    *Telecom immunity -- the congress passed a law letting the telecom companies off the hook for going along with Bushes warrantless wiretapping program, in violation of federal law. Even worse, ONE large telecom (Qwest) told Bush etc. to piss off, the CEO told whoever that he was advised the program was illegal and he would absolutely not go along with it. The feds cancelled contracts with Qwest, and raked through records until they could find *something* to charge the CEO with and oust him. So, in my opinion, since one company DID follow the law and was punished for it, the ones that broke the law HAVE to be knocked down a peg, otherwise it teaches companies that violating the law is good for them.

    Obama talked about how he was against telecom immunity when he was speaking to audiences that were against it, then turned around and voted FOR it and talked about how important it was. This made it clear his campaign promises were lies, and indeed so far he's done NOTHING he campaigned for. (Even the health care, the plan is so far watered down, instead of having free public health care it's watered down to forcing people who can't afford health insurance to buy it anyway or pay a fine, and force businesses to buy expensive health insurance (forcing many businesses out of business, or to stay below 50 employees since that's the cutoff.))

  10. Spanners Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Yet another reason

    This is yet another reason to keep away from the USA. When I travel, I carry a number of electronic devices. I will not have these things taken from me on the whim of some fool who might feel like taking them for further study for no good reason.

    I sympathise with their feeling of insecurity. I grew up with the IRA trying to scare me. My parents were in Harrods the day before terrorists bombed it. I have even been in the middle east and had my car stopped by two bearded "gentlemen" who wanted me to help their revolution. I have not got a hatred/distrust of all foreigners. Perhaps its because I know where Foreign is!

    I will either spend my holidays in my own country, or in Europe and I will do business with people who I share a cultural affinity with - in my own country or Europe.

    There is much that I could do over there but I can live without it. Pity...

  11. Winkypop Silver badge

    Nothing changes - just the uniforms

    1942: Papiere bitte

    2010: vergessen Sie bitte (password please)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reason number 476

    Why I won't be visiting the US again during this particular lifetime. Should the ACLU succeed that still leaves plenty of other good reasons.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Simple really

    It you don't like it, don't go there...

    Like Nazi Germany, if you dont like the domestic and international poilitics of a country you have a choice.... Don't go.

    Whats that, you employeer makes you go... find another!

    Whats thats you cry, but the economy is tough and there are no other jobs?

    Well I suggest that your economic drivers are greater than your morals?

    Of, course, you could keep "following (company) orders"

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      So as a scientist

      I should boycott all conferences on US soil? Pity that.

      I must say the last time I was there (2008, flew to Houston, and on to San Diego), I was treated courteously by the C&I officials. I skipped one conference (San Antonio ICIP meeting) due to the appalling treatment in Atlanta in 2006. But then I am white and Anglo-Saxon (not protestant, but atheist, does that make me a WASA?)

      1. TimNevins


        Here is what is waiting for academics

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      I know I won't be going there

      It's fascinating to watch all the people who do go there, having their hands scanned (why take fingerprints when an entire hand print is easier? see how much they love you?), pictures taken, submitting to interrogations etc etc. And no terrorists are ever caught, no bombs are ever found.

      But people put up with it regardless. Fascinating.

      If you so much as fart on your way though customs they'll pull you aside for a talking to followed by a nice cavity search for your trouble. Meanwhile some dick is already sitting on the plane with half a stick of TNT taped to his nuts.

      So now they need to scan you naked. Great. What's the betting Mr Terrorist will still magically make it on to the plane undetected next time they want to ratchet up the police state? Pretty high I would imagine.

      What a joke.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Improved US safety

    Close the borders. Don't let *anyone* in, that will stop 100% of the terrorists, gauranteed.

    Don't let *anyone* out. It will stop 100% of americans being killed overseas.

    Don't let *any* shipments of *anything* in. This will prevent the importation of any bombs, drugs, poisened food, etc.

    Don't let *any* shipments of *anything* out. This will prevent release of secrets, or parts that may be used by "axis of evil" (not USA) countries for any purposes.

    Cut all the hardlines. This will prevent leaking of state secrets.

    What is more, the above will also save the rest of the world from the kind of US actions that cause people to want to retaliate against the USA in the first place.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    All seems a bit silly to me.....

    If you were a serious criminal/terrorist none of this info would be on anything you carried, just put it on secure server and buy new device once you are in the country in order to access it.

    If you are visiting fo legit reasons, the technology works the same way anyway; if you don't want to buy, either take your own sanitised kit or rent when you are there!!

  16. ShaggyDoggy

    No borders

    I yearn for a world where borders do not exist, where there is just one currency, where everybody is in the same "country" so no more wars since there's no other country to go to war with.

    Remove all borders, unite into a single country now.

    We could call it ................... America

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Bob61 et al.


    See last one of last week's Daily Shows for a better description as to why Giuliani was talking complete wank. In summary:

    9/11 didn't count because ir was either Clinton's fault or specifically excluded from counting

    The shoe bomber didn't count because he was stopped before he could blow anything up however the almost identical underpants bomber *does* count because he tried to blow stuff up.

    Anything done by anti-abortionists / Tim McVey types doesn't count because they were not Muslims.

    The Washington sniper doesn't count because he was....Look a UFO!!!!!!

    RE: document / laptop searches on entering the US: AFAIK and IIRC the part being challenged only counts for US citizens returning to the US - if you are a foreigner you will be subject to document and data searches anyway regardless of what the ACLU manages to achieve.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters


      I thought even the UFOs had to declare everything and have their equipment searched whilst entering through the stargate at Area 51?

      At least they have stoped disecteing the UFO pilots, or have they?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Search laptops is necessary

    Hi, you are missing a vital point of searching laptops, they are large enough to contain an explosive. So let them search.

    1. Bob 61
      Paris Hilton

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits. (but it's a reply!)

      I refer my honourable gentleman to the post above. T-rex drawings do not rip off heads.

      A security guard wanting to partially dismantle a suspect device (though it may be booby* thingied) is fine - you may be correct, large enough to contain blowy up stuff to cause a problem.

      However, what the blue cheese of the Lords feet has my spreadsheet of nylon denier ratings preferred amongst blondes of a general demographic got to do with a troglodyte in uniform? More specifically how can it maim or kill? Excels of DEATH! Attack! Yet these mono-browed fuck wits are allowed to look? Why?

      Physical search, annoyingly accepted, leave the binaries alone thank you, (oh and put the bloody laptop together again properly)

      Anyway my thinking (excuse the oxymoron) Internet cafes, fake Yahoo! accounts, multiple bouncy around the net. I collect on arrival and let the T-REX RUN RAMPANT ON OHIO! (No offence Ohio)

      *Paris - I said booby (snigger)

  19. Anonymous Coward


    You can have the encryption key when you find a way to extract it from my brain.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Truecrypt

      In that case, they just lock you up and throw away the key. The US already has unlimited detention without trial, charge, right of appeal, attorney or to see evidence presented for your guilt. And for your convenience, the trial (if there is any) can be held in secret and you don't even have to attend. Bonus!

      So what difference would an encrypted disc make? Square root of fuck all!

      Queue: "He's guilt guv'nor, lock him up and throw away the key"... yadda, yadda, yadda :(

      1. Ubeek

        Re: Re: Truecrypt

        Truecrpyt has a feature allowing you to hide an encrypted volume within another encrypted volume, allowing you to have 2 sets of "private" data. Keep all of your data on your PC within one of these encrpyted volumes, or even use full disk encryption, but keep your sensitive data in the hidden volume.

        When asked for your password, you can gladly give them the password to the main volume, and they will remain none the wiser about the hidden volume that contains the data your actually concerned about.

        More info is avail here:

  20. YumDogfood

    You can have the encryption key when you find a way to extract it from my brain.

    Its called "torture". Pretty effective actually.

    1. Chris007

      torture has never..

      ..been an effective means of extracting the truth.

      You will generally get told what the person being tortured believes you want to hear

  21. Cortland Richmond
    Big Brother

    TheTen Billion Names of Pi

    Travelers who must deal with sensitive information are already advised to carry only sanitized laptops when passing international borders, downloading replacement files from secure sites and via VPN's after arrival. Meanwhile... large files containing the digits of Pi AFTER some random millions might offer snoops all the entertainment they care to enjoy.

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