Laptop searches by U.S. border agents ruled legal

Jan 1, 2014
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Laptop searches by U.S. border agents ruled legal

For most people, one's laptop is a like a trusted friend, packed full of data that one would not give out part and parcel to just anyone, particularly not strangers. Random laptop searches at United States borders have been taking place for years, and have been the subject of much outcry, particularly due to the complete lack of suspicion needed to perform the search. Civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit against this activity, citing reasons of being unconstitutional, but a New York judge has dismissed their complaint, giving border agents the go-ahead.

Travelers, when entering the United States, are vulnerable to potential laptop searches by border agents. These searches aren't guaranteed to take place, but if you're one of the unfortunate travelers who gets tagged, you have no say in having your digital data picked through. There have been instances where laptops have been confiscated, such as the case regarding Pascal Abidor, a French-American citizen who, upon entering the U.S. border territory, had his laptop confiscated by the border personnel.

It is being argued that allowing border agents to search laptops -- which includes the machines of news photographers and those of similar professions -- will give access to both sensitive and confidential information. The judge had a different view of this however, saying that, in the case of Abidor, who was abroad researching Shiite history, he "cannot be so naive to expect that when he crosses into Syrian or Lebanese border that the contents of his computer will be immune from searches and seizure at the whim of those who work for Bashar al-Assad or Hassan Nasrallah."

Thus was part of U.S. District Judge Edward Korman's final decision, dismissing the lawsuit and ruling that reasonable suspicion is not needed to perform a laptop search. The plantiffs, it was ruled, did not show any injury resulting from the searches, and legal precedents were used to conclude that US border crossings allowed for government searches -- reasonable suspicion aside -- in the name of national security.

Said ACLU lawyer Catherine Crump: "Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight." The organization is debating about appealing the judge's decision, though whether it will is yet to be determined.

SOURCE: Associated Press


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