Government restricts border laptop checks

Washington (DC) – The US government has imposed new restrictions on federal agents’ searches of laptops owned by visitors to the country.

Reuters reports that, while the current practice of examining  travelers’ electronic devices is to continue, permission from a supervisor is now required before a laptop can be held for inspection for more than five days – in some cases, electronic devices have been held for several weeks.

The new rules also stipulate that any data abstracted from laptops, phones, cameras and music players must be destroyed immediately investigations have ended.

“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,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Civil liberties activists have long maintained that the government has no right to read contact lists and confidential emails, proprietary business files, financial and medical records or other private information.

Customs and Border Protection officials can now keep electronic devices and data stored on them only if they have cause to believe it is connected to a crime. They must consult agency lawyers before they can view any personal data, such as medical records or journalists’ contact books.

According to DHS figures, since October last year, around 1,000 laptops have been searched, including 46 which were subject to ‘more detailed’ forensic examination.