Agents can detain laptops at border

Aug. 1, 2008 at 12:56 AM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Federal officials have disclosed that agents at the U.S. border can seize electronic devices like laptops and cell phones and keep them as long as needed.

The Department of Homeland Security recently released an update on policies for travelers entering and leaving the United States, the Washington Post reported. The policies, dated July 16, said DHS agents could share data from electronic devices with other government agencies and private institutions if needed for decryption or translation.

Agents can keep laptops and other devices for "a reasonable period of time."

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., called the procedure "truly alarming."

"They're saying they can rifle through all the information in a traveler's laptop without having a smidgen of evidence that the traveler is breaking the law," said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, writing in USA Today last month, said that given the number of travelers, laptops would only be seized when agents have cause. But he said trying to determine what reasons would justify detaining a device would hamper law enforcement.

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