Tuesday, November 30, 2010

U.S. performs 1,200 traveler laptop searches per year

TrueCrypt: don't leave home without it.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko:
"Between October 1, 2008 and August 11, 2009 CBP encountered more than 221 million travelers and of these, fewer than 1,050 searches were performed on laptops."
- Wired.com
For those unfamiliar with the border search exception to the fourth amendment, when you are flying internationally, security agents can take you aside and search your belongings without any warrant or reasonable suspicion. Ok, big deal, so I'm going to have to open my bag again, right?

Thing is, this policy has been interpreted to include searching all files on your laptop, phone, USB drive, etc. They'll even confiscate your computer for months, copy the entire hard drive, and mail it back to you.

Now is the first time I've seen numbers on this. That's a rate of about 1,200 searches per year as of last year. And I was already upset about this policy when I thought it was a really rare occurrence.

I remember hearing an explanation for this policy is that they've determined that searching the files on an electronic device is equivalent to searching your current personal effects. This is what gets me upset. I assume that the people who decided on this interpretation of the law imagine the contents of a phone or laptop to be just about the same as the contents of, say, a notepad you bring on a plane.

But many people, especially of my generation, have a good proportion of their lives on their computers. Personally I can't deal with physical things and lose them all the time, so my most personal possessions are files on my hard drive. Search my apartment all you want; there's not much I'd be upset over losing. But on my computer I have personal documents I wrote in 1998 in middle school. I have IM conversations from high school. I have all the texts I've sent since 2006. All emails since 2004. Calendar events since 2008. And 10,000 personal photos.

I know, no one cares about my middle school secrets or the texts I sent to my ex-girlfriend (though I could see them having a good old time back at the office with some of my photos). The point is, it feels as violating as a warrantless search of my home would've felt 20 years ago. Preventing such a violation is the whole point of the fourth amendment.

And it's coming to a laptop near you. So remember kids, if you want to spit in the face of a violation of your rights, TrueCrypt up!

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