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Homeland Security To Continue Border Laptop Searches

August 28, 2009

The US Department of Homeland Security on Thursday announced it would keep its policy that gives it the power to seize and search the laptop, camera or cellphone of any traveler entering the nation’s borders.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new policy would expand upon that of the Bush administration by detailing what procedures could be taken when searching through travelers’ devices. It also gives a time limit for agents to complete their search before having to return the device back to its owner.

US Customs and Border Protection officers will be given 5 days or less to complete searches, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will have no more than 30 days.

“The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders,” Napolitano said in a statement.

The department has been scrutinized by advocate groups for the policy, which allows agents to search through all information on any electronic device of people entering the country, without suspicion.

“It’s a disappointing ratification of the suspicionless search policy put in place by the Bush administration,” the Washington Post quoted Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It provides a lot of procedural safeguards, but it doesn’t deal with the fundamental problem, which is that under the policy, government officials are free to search people’s laptops and cellphones for any reason whatsoever.”

However, Napolitano said: “Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States.”

DHS said between October 1, 2008 and August 11, 2009, 221 million travelers entered the US borders, and about 1,000 laptops were searched, 46 of which involved more detailed search procedures.

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