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August 05, 2008 

CBP Responds to Laptop Computer Search Controversy

Jayson Ahern, Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has responded to the recent controversy surrounding the search of laptop computers and other electronic devices of travelers arriving in the U.S. in a post on the Department of Homeland Security's Leadership Journal blog.

In his post, Deputy Commissioner Ahern makes three basic points:

1. CBP's security mission at the border "would be hampered" if CBP "did not apply the same search authorities to electronic media that we have long-applied to physical objects--including documents, photographs, film and other graphic material."

2. This policy is not new and CBP has been "searching laptops of those who warrant a closer inspection for years." He also indicated that CBP has taken the "unprecedented step of posting online [note that the link in the post is not correct; this is the correct link] a policy that would typically be reserved for internal purposes."

3. Less than one percent of travelers are subject to laptop computer searches.

Meanwhile, this issue has received a great deal of attention in Congress. Last week Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), whose district includes Silicon Valley, introduced the "Electronic Device Privacy Act of 2008" (H.R. 6588), a bill intended to prevent customs officials from using the pretext of border searches to conduct searches and seizures of laptop computers and other electronic devices. According to the press release issued by Rep. Lofgren's office, the bill "is not intended to prevent the search or seizure of laptops or other electronic devices when legitimate law enforcement purposes justify that search or seizure." However, the language of the bill does not make clear how that distinction will be made in the field.




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