Random Inspection of Your Laptop's Content at U.S. Border

I've travelled quite a bit in the past, but I didn't even know about this: US Customs and Border Protection agents can "randomly" seize your laptop, camera, cell phone and other electronic devices at the border for inspection - meaning they'll take a peek at what you've got stored in your machine:

Bill Hogan was returning home to the U.S. from Germany in February when a customs agent at Dulles International Airport pulled him aside. He could reenter the country, she told him. But his laptop couldn't.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents said he had been chosen for "random inspection of electronic media," and kept his computer for about two weeks, recalled Hogan, 55, a freelance journalist from Falls Church, Va.

But don't they need a warrant to do that? Nope - no, they don't:

Authorities need a search warrant to get at a computer in a person's home and reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to search a laptop in other places. But the rules change at border crossings.

Courts consistently have ruled that there's no need for warrants or suspicions when a person is seeking to enter the country -- agents can search belongings, including computer gear, for any reason.


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To add to this ongoing commentary ,, US Customs and Homeland security seem to sometimes leave common sense behind in their dealings with the public . A question asked in a survey of US citizens who travelled frequently . What was the least pleasant part of a trip > dealing with Customs . A example of no common sense . Two guys go out in their SeaDoo in the thousand islands near Kingston, Ont, The watercraft breaks down and they drift into the US landing on a beach , Somehow they are spotted and picked up by US Customs and are deemed to have illegally
entered the US . They of course have no ID, in fact all they are wearing is a bathing suit . Now it gets really funny/pathetic .. They are such a risk that they spend 3 days in US jail for having the audacity to break down in the middle of the lake and then illegally 'enter' the country . some one with common sense might have just offered to put a tow rope on the jetski and towed them back to the Canadian side but the mindset of some of these guys is just strange . My neighbour tells me a story of an acquaintance . She is clearing US customs at vancouver airport on her way to hawaii , The officer asks how long are staying in Hawaii? Three months is the reply . Are you going to work there ? No I 'm staying with my boyfriend . Oh how long have you been doing this ? for the past 4 years. [ He can check her entry history on his computer] and she says he comes to canada for 2-3 months at a time as well .. The officer ponders this...
Next question. Is he going to marry you ? The lady is a bit taken aback by this and replies Well we haven't got to that point yet >. Officer pauses then replies
Well If he has not married you by now he should . I'm going to deny you entry . Someday You'll thank me for this !! she is flabergasted and walks away in disbelief
Apparently it takes her a large effort to get this undone as once " denied entry' you are in the computer
and are screwed up good . If she had the presence of mind to pull out a sheet of paper and asked the officer to write down his reasons and quote the sections of the rules which guide him perhaps he might have rescinded his decision ? That is taking it way over the top , From my discussions with people who have regular dealings with US Customs many officers interpret the " rules' differently depending on what day of the week it is or what phase of the moon is showing. A close friend's daughter is a canadian citizen who went to University in Chicago worked in N.Carolina for 2 years got a new job in SanDiego and was is in the process of getting a getting her work visa thru the system with a new employer as the sponsor. She comes back to canada to go to Grandma's 90th birthday party
There is a bit of a slow down in the process of having her visa completed and printed . It has been done but she had yet to get the paper copy . It was posted on the US customs and immigration website . She goes to Vancouver airport to Sunday afternoon to catch flight to San Diego.. US Customs officer asks her what she is doing she explains , says she has Visa completed and approved here is web address so he can look it up . He asks where is paper copy , she explains not yet in hand wanted to go to Grandma's birthday in canada . pls check website . He says no paper , no entry . go away ; makes comment to the effect I could lose my job if I let you in .. She leaves bewildered fortunately her mother is still at airport . They get in car and go to Peace Arch border crossing where she explains situation to very nice young agent who looks up the visa confirmation on line says all is in order and remarks better get on your way to Sea-Tac as quickly as you can . She is just able to catch last
flight and connection to SanDiego .. What a mess all because this one officer can't/won't accept a online visa confirmation , When another officer an hour later goes out of his way to be helpful and passes her thru no problem . Some agents seem to be a law unto themselves and have forgotten the adage "Too whom much is given much is expected "
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Its not just America my friends. I was detained entering Canada. They searched everything. So what I thought I have nothing to hide. Then they searched my camera, again nothing to hide. Unless pictures of stained glass is against the law. Next they searched the laptop. Well they tried. I use a mac, and it appears they are not mac savvy. So they asked for my assistance. The wanted to install some software to search my laptop. Turns out whatever they wanted to install was not mac compatible. So they asked me to show them where the pictures were saved. So I did. I warned them they may find some ADULT PORN, and a pic or two of me naked. There were only a few graphic pictures. They did not pay much attention to them though. Then the guy stops on one pic. This was the pic that he had a problem with. I could not believe it. It was a pic of my partners nephews. They were playing with my web cam. The camera has a feature that makes the pic distorted. You know great big eyes, little chin. That sort of thing. The program is called Photo Booth. Mac users you all know it. Well anyhow his nephews must have taken 100 pics or so making funny faces. I remember the day, they had so much fun. By the way, they clearly had clothes on. In a few pics there parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles were in the undistorted background. So these very innocent pictures caused a huge delay, and a lot of uncomfortable questioning. They lectured me, and questioned me. To be honest I was really scared. I did nothing wrong but felt like I was going to be locked away. What they told me is child predators will morph the pictures of children...... They gave me an example story of what they found. I had to tell them to stop I didnt want to hear any more. They were literally making me sick to my stomach. Finally after multiple interviews they decided I was not a dangerous person, and let me enter. They did give me back my laptop, and camera. I do feel violated. I also feel glad they have caught some very sick people. Mostly angry that anyone would accuse me of doing such things to children, especially how innocent the pictures were. So my solution. I need my computer when I travel, so I will change the hard drive. On a 13 in Macbook it takes 10 min to change. I will just use a clean, new, hard drive with nothing more than the OS on it. I will not set up any email accounts on mail programs. I am sure this will be suspicious as well. I really do not know for sure. I do know, I do not want to go through this experience again. No book marks, no cookies, and no contacts. I will just have to rough it. If they decide to try to install software again, I say go right ahead. That hard drive will be removed from my computer 10 min after I get home. I suggest to all who can leave such items at home just do it. If you must travel with hardware, remember this story. Very innocent pictures suddenly making me a suspect. It could happen to you. if both Canada and America are doing it, I am sure other countries are as well. Oh yea, and it is very true your rights are non-existent at the boarder. To the boarder patrol agents, I am glad your trying to catch the bad guys, however please do it without taking every ounce of dignity of someone. Is it really any of your business about who I hooked up with or what their name is. I did not give the name, I just let them think I was very easy. I said I did not really catch the name. How did they know to ask for a name, well they asked me a lot of sexual questions. At least they did not comment with score cards about the nude pics of myself, that my boyfriend took.
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It's only a pathetic waste of time. Of course, a terrorist will plan their attack in a different way. In a way that couldn't be stopped by a guy called John in a routinary inspection.

The only thing you get doing this is to annoy normal people and make the people "feel" safe.
Oh, well, and also it gives a job to people like Ddog, useful to make him be only annoying, but not dangerous.
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July 8th, 2008 at 3:34 am
@Ddog - i’m curious, what have you ever found in a laptop that posed any risk to the United States?

To know the answer to that, you would have to be a Customs Officer.
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