New Bill Introduced into Congress Limits DHS Border Laptop Searches

WASHINGTON, D.C. A new bill introduced to Congress last week reportedly limits the Department of Home Security, Customs and Border Patrol agents when searching your laptop, external hard drive or mobile device.

However, some might perceive the bill as an attempt by Congress to justify an illegal act that breaches the Forth Amendment, which protects U.S. citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.

“I was deeply concerned to learn about the lack of protections individuals' have when their electronic equipment is randomly seized,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), who introduced the bill, told Ars Technica. “With the passage of the Border Search Accountability Act of 2008, Americans will be able to travel with more peace of mind knowing that their data will be further protected and that there are stringent accountability measures in place for safeguarding their personal information.”

Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that border searches of electronic devices did not violate the Fourth Amendment, even in instances when there was no probable cause.

Judges said they believe the right to search personal material at the borders – including briefcases, luggage, purses and other personal items – set the example for electronic devices. 

Sanchez's bill would require the government to draft additional rules regarding information security, the number of days a device can be retained, receipts that must be issued when devices are taken, ways to report abuses and the completion of both a privacy impact study and a civil liberties impact study, according to ARS Technica. Additionally, travelers would be extended the explicit right to watch the search while it’s taking place.  

Moreover, Sanchez said she wants information from Congress once per quarter surrounding how many searches are being conducted, where they are taking place and the race and nationality of those being searched.