Securing the Border Against Creepy Pictures on Some Guy's Laptop


The Department of Homeland Security plans to retain the Bush administration policy of seizing and searching international travelers' laptop computers and other electronic devices at will. An ACLU attorney told The Washington Post the revised version of the policy "provides a lot of procedural safeguards, but it doesn't deal with the fundamental problem, which is that under the policy, government officials are free to search people's laptops and cellphones for any reason whatsoever." Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says such wide discretion is essential to national security:

Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States. The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders.

What a crock. As I noted in a column last year, DHS is not looking for bombs in those laptops; it is looking for incriminating files, and the charges that flow from the searches typically have nothing to do with terrorism, contrary to Napolitano's implication. Judging from the comments of her predecessor, Michael Chertoff, the most common crime detected is possession of child pornography. The government is using the "border search exception" to the Fourth Amendment as an excuse to delve into people's private lives without a warrant, looking for a reason to arrest them.