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July 01, 2008 

CBP Posts Statement in Defense of Searches of Laptop Computers and Other Digital Devices

In defense of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) policy regarding the search of laptop computers and digital devices possessed by travelers returning to the U.S. from abroad, CBP Deputy Commissioner Jayson Ahern posted an article on Leadership Journal, the Department of Homeland Security's blog. The post states that:

Our ability to inspect what is coming into the United States is central to keeping dangerous people and things from entering the country and harming the American people. One of our most important enforcement tools in this regard is our ability to search information contained in electronic devices, including laptops and other digital devices, for violations of U.S. law, including potential threats.

These searches have helped limit the movement of terrorists, individuals who support their activities, and other threats to national security. During border inspections of laptops, CBP officers have found violent jihadist material, information about cyanide and nuclear material, video clips of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), pictures of high-level Al-Qaeda officials, and other material associated with people seeking to do harm to our country.
The article also notes that:
It is not our intent to subject legitimate travelers to undue scrutiny, but to ensure the safety of the American public. In conducting these searches, we are fully dedicated to protecting the civil rights of all travelers. Similar to our efforts with respect to vehicles, suitcases, backpacks, hard-copy documents, and conveyances, our examinations of laptops and other digital devices are consistent with longstanding constitutional authorities at the border and have been affirmed by federal courts throughout the country, including most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Moreover, CBP officers adhere to strict constitutional and statutory requirements, including the Trade Secrets Act, which explicitly forbids federal employees from disclosing, without lawful authority, business confidential information they may access as part of their official duties. We also protect information that may be uncovered during examination as well as private information that is not in violation of any law.

We have a responsibility to ensure that any item brought into the country complies with the law and is not a threat to the American public. To treat our inspections of digital media at the border differently from any other documents or conveyances would give terrorists and criminals an advantage they should not have and that our nation cannot afford.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights held a hearing earlier on "Laptop Searches and Other Violations of Privacy Faced by Americans Returning from Overseas Travel." At the hearing, subcommittee chairman Russell Feingold (D-WI) expressed concern that the Department of Homeland Security did not send a witness to testify and criticized the written statement that CBP provided to the Subcommittee.




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