No curbs on border searches of cellphones, laptops


Hugo Martin
Los Angeles Times
March 1, 2010

In the last year and a half, civil-liberties groups and business travel leaders have complained about U.S. Border Patrol agents’ broad authority to search and seize laptops and other electronic gadgets carried by travelers. But new information details the extent to which this has happened.

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Debate over the searches picked up steam in July 2008 when federal officials issued a policy directive that makes clear that agents at airports and borders can look into your electronic devices without first establishing suspicion of wrongdoing.

In a recent nine-month period, U.S. Customs and Border Protection searched and seized 1,644 devices from travelers entering and leaving the United States, according to data the American Civil Liberties Union obtained through a lawsuit. The most common target: cellphones.

Of those searched or seized devices, 582 were cellphones, 398 were laptop computers and 259 were digital cameras. The rest included MP3 players, flash drives, hard drives, DVDs and other devices.

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