U.S. border officials may seize electronics without warrants, court rules

If you frequent the American-Canadian border (or perhaps the American-Mexican border), you may want to make sure you're not carrying anything remotely suspicious on your digital devices - your laptop, your cell phone, your camera, your tablet, and so on. Or at the very least, you may want to consider very strong encryption solutions for your personal data. In a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth circuit last week, authorities are now given the power to seize your electronics without any warrants, and the electronics may be passed on to other sites for forensic inspection. 

As Computerworld reports, this ruling now gives authorities power to seize electronics for both ground and air traffic entering the United States. The earlier precedent was set almost a year ago, when a judge ruled that authorities at a Detroit airport had valid grounds to search and seize a man's computer on suspicion of him transporting child pornography from an overseas trip to Indonesia. This recent ruling has a very similar case, where another man was charged with possession of child pornography upon returning to the United States via Mexico. In both cases, appeals were filed over the officials seizing equipment based on suspicions of American border agents.

While the move to halt the exploitation of children is welcomed, privacy advocates and companies argue the move serves as a further erosion of an individual's right to refuse unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In particular, it opens up the risk of the federal government obtaining confidential company information. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, officials have confiscated approximately 220 devices over a eight-month period starting from October 2008.

With recent moves such as this, and the American government considering imposing entry fees on vehicle traffic crossing the American-Canadian border, officials should be careful not to upset the delicate balance between maintaining security and protecting innocent lives, and ensuring not much revenue is lost from frequent commuters crossing the border.

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This is from the 9th THE most Liberal and THE most overturned "Court" of Appeal in the Country, once this hits the Supremes some common sense will finally prevail

hmmmm America the new Russia and TSA to be renamed the Stazzi, DHS to become KGB etc etc .... sorry guys but I think I'll stay right here in New Zealand police here still need reasonable suspicion and a warrant to search your **** here unless ofcourse your an person of interest that is

When you fly in to the US, are you allowed to carry with you any electronics? Back in 2009 I read somewhere TSA were banning carry-on electronic items.

ut oh, Canadian men with police badge may want to watch downloaded american tv without commercial interruptions. glad i lost most of my iso images of various software.

Great. Yet another way to drive away people from the US, maybe drive the CDN dollar up a bit more

Well, first they want to x-ray me.. to do whatever with that information, now they can no only dig through every electronic device I own - but can seize it immediately for a just-cause reason?

What if the persons are there for 3 days, how long is this 'forensic' stuff take? does the USA send my stuff to me express courier anywhere in the US or my home country once they analyze it? or do they detain me? or just destroy the gear?

They've had this right for over a year now and I've crossed the border many times, with and without my laptop, never had any issues, even twice I've had to go through secondary inspection and never had any issues, too much paranoia. Basically I don't have anything illegal on my laptop, including .mp3's.

Leo said,
As long as they are careful and don't mess with my bookmarks on Safari, I'm ok with it.
Exactly the attitude that got us in this place to begin with.

Also, the computerworld.com article has so many mistakes.

1 big one: "The judges ruled that since customs agents did not have any reasonable suspicion that contraband would be found on Cotterman's computers, they violated his Fourth Amendment rights."

Negative! Reasonable suspicion does not equal Probable Cause! That judge ruled on Probable Cause. The only time reasonable suspicion comes into play is when you believe a person is armed (Terry Frisk) and when stopping a motor vehicle (notice I said stop, not arrest).

What this article failed to sate, is that the Police must still have probable cause in order to seize. Court case after court case, has made it clear that if you have probable cause then you can seize evidence without first getting a warrant.

By the way, Police only have to believe they have probable cause at the time of the warrantless seizure. They will still have to proof it later.

How is this different you ask? Well before, you had to get the warrant unless it was an emergency situation. If you did not get the warrant then all sized evidence would have been thrown out as Fruit of the poisonous tree.

war said,
What this article failed to sate, is that the Police must still have probable cause in order to seize. Court case after court case, has made it clear that if you have probable cause then you can seize evidence without first getting a warrant.

By the way, Police only have to believe they have probable cause at the time of the warrantless seizure. They will still have to proof it later.

How is this different you ask? Well before, you had to get the warrant unless it was an emergency situation. If you did not get the warrant then all sized evidence would have been thrown out as Fruit of the poisonous tree.


tripple-posted spam

I think US officials don't care AT ALL about CP, all they care is ability to legally "acquire" trade secrets from "certain" laptops.

Funny that tens of millions of illegal immigrants cross Mexican border every year and it seems that nobody cares about them or their laptops. They just cross the border and work for cash, haha )))

Why don't more USA people speak up against this? People's rights are constantly stripped away, and no one says anything? All this for the sake of protecting against I-don't-know-what? Does it really make the USA safer for its people? Agree or disagree, there's this strong state of paranoia and fear in the USA that I don't understand. Citizens are practically considered guilty until proven innocent. There are unreasonable security laws, rules, restrictions, etc. When compared to most of the rest of the world, I think the USA is overly zealous.

XIII said,
Because our country is degrading. We would rather shutdown our government and continue feeding parasites like Mexicans than to get off our lazy asses and start kicking them out of the country.
Exactly. This country has become so lazy. People have lost the ability to earn what they get. Everything is expected as somehow "owed" to them or "deserved". Sad really. Very few people in this country actually get the concept of working hard and building a strong foundation. Just look at the credit problems in this country. How many people owe $10k, $20k, $50k on credit cards but only earn $30k / yr? It's crazy. "Savings account? What's that?" *sigh* - I could go on for days....

If you know anything about crossing the boarder to Canada entering is controlled by the cdn government so this does not apply to coming to here it only if your entering the US

Professional Lurker said,
This is so unconstitutional, its beyond belief!
what constitution, didn't GW throw that out the window awhile back?

Professional Lurker said,
This is so unconstitutional, its beyond belief!
What this article failed to sate, is that the Police must still have probable cause in order to seize. Court case after court case, has made it clear that if you have probable cause then you can seize evidence without first getting a warrant.

By the way, Police only have to believe they have probable cause at the time of the warrantless seizure. They will still have to proof it later.

How is this different you ask? Well before, you had to get the warrant unless it was an emergency situation. If you did not get the warrant then all sized evidence would have been thrown out as Fruit of the poisonous tree.

So no, no it's not unconstitutional!

I live 10 minutes from the Canadian border and this makes me not want to cross. Seriously, if this keeps up, they (the US government) are going to cripple the economies in these border area's.

Elessar said,
I live 10 minutes from the Canadian border and this makes me not want to cross. Seriously, if this keeps up, they (the US government) are going to cripple the economies in these border area's.

Yep. A shame this administration doesn't understand economics...

M_Lyons10 said,

Yep. A shame this administration doesn't understand economics...
"This administration"?? I'm no Democrat (not even close) but there's no way you can deny that we Americans lost a lot of our rights thanks to the fear and laws instituted by the former administration and their fear mongering. If you're going to make some snotty political comment then at least make sure you know what you're talking about. Bush was awful and Obama isn't doing much better.

The U.S. is turning into a police state. What's next, indefinite imprisonment without reason if they suspect you are a threat to the nation?

Vveazel said,
The U.S. is turning into a police state. What's next, indefinite imprisonment without reason if they suspect you are a threat to the nation?

LOL Welcome to 2001.

Tim Dawg said,
"This administration"?? I'm no Democrat (not even close) but there's no way you can deny that we Americans lost a lot of our rights thanks to the fear and laws instituted by the former administration and their fear mongering. If you're going to make some snotty political comment then at least make sure you know what you're talking about. Bush was awful and Obama isn't doing much better.

I agree. Its seems that Obama is getting the blame for things created by the Bush Administration including the current economic mess which the Republicans (Read Tea partiers) are doing the best to stop him from doing what must be done. At least Obama is trying.......

Foub said,

I agree. Its seems that Obama is getting the blame for things created by the Bush Administration including the current economic mess which the Republicans (Read Tea partiers) are doing the best to stop him from doing what must be done. At least Obama is trying.......

Care to back up your claim of him "trying"?
He said he would end the wars, now we are dropping drones in Pakistan, and he's still trying to get into Iran. (Dont forget we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan). We now support the Libyan people, the very people where Al Qaeda fighters were coming from to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq against the US.

He said he would close Guantanamo Bay, but that's not happening anymore..

Are you still hoping for that change he asked you to believe in so you could put him in office? BTW, its not really him who's running the show anyways. Even if someone else were to be put in place, whether Republican or Democrat, it doesnt matter. The agendas being carried would be the same regardless.

Foub said,

I agree. Its seems that Obama is getting the blame for things created by the Bush Administration including the current economic mess which the Republicans (Read Tea partiers) are doing the best to stop him from doing what must be done. At least Obama is trying.......

Trying his damnest to bankrupt the country, look at the budget debacle we are dealing with, look at all the deficit he added since he became President, look at all the flip flopping he has been doing, want more?