Feds claim right to laptops

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The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will continue to allow its agents to seize notebook computers and retain the devices indefinitely.

The DHS said in a report that it will allow agents of the US Customs and Border Patrols (CBP) to seize electronic devices and copy or obtain them as part of a normal search procedure. The rule would allow agents to examine notebooks without any suspicion of a crime and copy the hard drive.

If no evidence of a crime is found, the agents will be forced to destroy the copies.

The practice of seizing and searching laptops in standard border searches has become a major point of contention between the DHS and civil liberties advocates. In a June statement, congressman Ross Feingold wrote that the practice was overly invasive and outside of the realm of a reasonable search.

"Customs agents must have the ability to conduct even highly intrusive searches when there is reason to suspect criminal or terrorist activity, but suspicionless searches of Americans’ laptops and similar devices go too far. Congress should not allow this gross violation of privacy," he wrote.

The DHS, however, defended the practice, saying that it was essential to national security.

"These examinations are part of CBP's long-standing practice and are essential to uncovering vital law enforcement information," the department argued.

"For example, examinations of documents and electronic devices are a crucial tool for detecting information concerning terrorism, narcotics smuggling, and other national security matters."

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