Skip to main content

Judge Places Limits on Airport Laptop Searches

CNet reports that U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern District of California rejected the Obama administration's argument that no warrant was necessary to look through the laptop of an American returning home from a trip to South Korea.

In January 2009, Andrew Samuel Hanson's laptop was seized after a customs official found a picture of a naked adolescent girl on a beach. Hanson was charged with possession and transportation of child porn but pleaded not guilty. Several more searches were carried out in February and a forensic search was carried out in June of 2009. Mr. Hanson's lawyer argued that because of the amount of time that had elapsed, the June search could not be considered an extended border search. Because this search was carried out without a warrant, Hanson's lawyer argued that his rights had been violated.

Though the Justice Department tried to argue that the search, which took place nearly five months later, was warranted because laptop could not be cleared by customs until it had been thoroughly searched, Judge White said this argument was not persuasive. White ruled that the June search did require a warrant.

Two years ago, DHS introduced rules that said TSA could kidnap any device capable of storing information (including hard drives, flash drives, your cellphone, MP3 player, Kindle, pager, and any books or documents you happen to have lying around) for "a reasonable amount of time." Aside from being allowed to keep your electronics for as long as they wanted, DHS could also share your data with other federal agencies or private entities for language translation, data decryption or "other reasons." Last year an amendment stated that supervisory approval is required if a device is held for more than 15 days.

Read more on CNet.

  • LORD_ORION
    Sooo... when does google start paying airport security to upload the entire contents of people's electronic devices?
    Reply
  • EvilMonk
    And could that Apply to foreign visitors entering the US for a connecting flight?
    Reply
  • drutort
    i wonder how they plan to deal with cloud computing and other such of site data storage :P what will they say... hand over your password to your gmail account too? and other bank or other private things as well?

    were does it end?
    Reply
  • killerclick
    TrueCrypt AES. :)
    Reply
  • jerreece
    And here I thought the whole point was to prevent terrorist attacks. Now we're going to search people's electronic devices for... porn and what, top secret materials?
    Reply
  • sliem
    To see if it's iPad the feminine product or bomb.
    Reply
  • nonxcarbonx
    truecrypt's where it's at.
    Reply
  • figgus
    DHS could also share your data with other federal agencies or private entities for language translation, data decryption or "other reasons."TrueCrypt is good, but my money says the NSA has a "master key" (ie they cracked the algorithms).

    Even if not, the argument they would use is that you must be a terrorist because you are hiding something. The mass media and the population at large would buy into that in a heartbeat, even the CEO of Google expressed that sentiment not long ago.
    Reply
  • figgus
    Steganography is a much better option, imo, since they won't even know to go looking for it.
    Reply
  • zambutu
    I don't agree with airport security being able to search data on any electronic device unless there is a relevant safety concern, such as terrorism. They should be limited to looking for physical items being brought in unclaimed. Peoples personal files should be none on anyones elses business, unless of course the individual gave a reason for a search. Once I had a seemingly random search at an airport customs inbound. They sifted through my files, checked what videos I had, and checked the keyboard for drugs. It felt like a complete personal violation. It's like airport security had turn into the child porn defend department.
    Reply