Bill proposed to limit searches of laptops at US borders
A US politician has proposed a limit on searches of electronic equipment carried by visitors to the country. In the House of Representatives, Democrat Loretta Sanchez has [ http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.6869: filed a bill] for a "Border Search Accountability Act of 2008" that would impose conditions on searching electronic devices, such as laptops and cell phones, at US borders. The California Representative wants the Act to ensure that owners of such devices – or at least a supervisor – is present during the search. In addition, the Act would specify that devices would have to be returned to the owners within a certain time. Special rules would only apply if the decryption of encrypted data takes longer.
The device's owner would be informed if data on the device searched are copied, retained, or entered in a database. Exceptions would be made if homeland security is threatened, but affected parties would be informed of their right to file complaints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is in charge of the searches. Business secrets and other confidential information, such as between a lawyer and a client, have additional protection, such as under the Privacy Act. This Act does not, however, apply to foreigners. The Representative also proposes that data protection and civil rights be reviewed under the current practice, whose legality an appeals court has already confirmed to the benefit of customs and border patrol officials.
Sanchez, chair of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism, wants to use the Act to ensure that there are clearly defined procedures to protect electronic data if mobile computer devices are confiscated at border entry points. The focus of the Act is on information that does not affect homeland security. Sanchez said she is worried that travellers are not now able to defend themselves sufficiently if their electronic equipment is randomly searched or confiscated. She says that US citizens will be able to travel more freely if the bill is enacted. In light of the US presidential elections in November, the bill will likely be delayed until the new US Congress goes into session.