Federal Court: No suspicion needed for laptop searches at border


They can do whatever they want to do in Constitution-free zones.


It is best to encrypt your data. I don’t have anything interesting on my laptop but do have an encrypted volume. This not only give me a place to keep confidential data in the event I need to, but if more of us have such a volume, it adds to the general difficulty of laptop searches in border zones. At this point, you can’t be forced to reveal the password to your encryption in the US.

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I worked for a place, that sent people overseas with freshly-imaged laptops, and a managed online backup service.

You’d back up to the States daily, and were supposed to wipe and re-image before crossing ANY border…

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Lets hope the terrorists don’t get their hands on elite backup technology.


Hey Hey Hey What’s that you say?

We lose a bit of freedom everyday!

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Yeah, it’s not like it’s HARD. We just paid for a separate instance of a commercial service. . .

Of course, the one time I went overseas, after wiping the box prior to returning to the US, I downloaded a bunch of LOLcats, and placed them in a folder marked “Kitty Porn”.

And of course, they didn’t search my laptop . . . :wink:

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My solution would be full-disk encryption with the password having to be entered before the machine can boot and get to the login screen. I’d also require a password to log in to my user account. And I’d arrange it so I didn’t know the passwords. They’d be randomly generated, set and sent to my server for later retrieval so if anyone asks for them I can legitimately say I just don’t have them on me. I won’t be able to use the computer until I get home and retrieve the passwords, but any data on it is inaccessible.

Better yet would be to store everything server-side. Partition my disk so I have a D: drive for data and use it to store everything, then shovel it up to a server and wipe and reformat D: before I travel. C: could be a stock Windows image taken right after I’d installed and configured things, I can wipe it and load the image on from a DVD or USB stick and remove any traces of anything but a completely clean, sterile system. The best way to deal with a search is to have nothing to find.

If the problem is lack of connectivity where you’re going, get 2 SSD hard drives. One is your working drive (with full-disk encryption, natch), the other is a vanilla unencrypted Windows installation with nothing on it. Before you head home, pull the working drive out and replace it with the vanilla Windows drive. Ship the working drive home separately. Let them search, the only things they’ll find will be profoundly uninteresting. They won’t be able to legitimately complain you didn’t cooperate, after all there’s the computer you handed over and it works and everything and they can see everything on it, it’s not your fault there’s nothing they wanted to find there.


I wonder how soon the courts will just rule that the government can do whatever the hell it wants in all circumstances?

After all, if requiring reasonable suspicion for a border laptop search could lead to litigation, or reveal national security information, why then, the same is true of searching your laptop in your home, is it not?

Or searching your home. Or your body cavities. Or putting you in a cell indefinitely without charges. All in the name of keeping us safe, of course. From the terrorists, that is. No need to keep us safe from our own government; because, you know, they’re the good guys.


By the way – if the search is done out of your sight, well then! Say hello to your new hardware. Or rather, their hardware, attached to your computer to snoop on you. Unless they checked and found the factory-installed snoops intact. Jacob Applebaum’s recent 30c3 presentation goes into a lot of details on that sort of thing.

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Man, the case for some trusted home server or trusted online source and just bring a burner cheap laptop with a lightweight linux distro clean install just gets more and more made. If it gets taken for search then just consider it suspect and sell/trash it and get another cheap one after crossing.

Encryption of the local drive is NOT the right answer - even if the law doesn’t allow them to force you to reveal your password, the law isn’t that much of a deterrent for these people.

Walk across the border with a clean laptop, put your data in an encrypted file in the cloud, restore it when you arrive at your destination.

And remember, the border is a zone 100 miles in from the map-line border; that takes in around 2/3 of the US population. The area around international airports and other major transportation hubs are also within the border, so that takes in most of the rest.


someone should draw a map which illustrates exactly how much of the US is considered to be ‘border’ - perhaps shaded blue for “Patriotic Border Searches for any reason OK at anytime within this area” and red for “godless commies and hippies in this area” … or sumfink.

I’d do it, but my shoop skillz sux0rz. Call David McCandless, stat!

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great, now the border can search your laptop and bottom :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Here is a map showing 100 miles from the border:


Do borders include ports, harbours and airports?

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many thanks fireshadow, but yeah; that map doesn’t appear(?) to include 100m circles around inland airports? (and ports along, say, the Mississippi?)

That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing the ACLU would get wrong, though :confused:

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8 CFR 287.1 - Definitions:

(1) External boundary. The term external boundary, as used in section 287(a)(3) of the Act, means the land boundaries and the territorial sea of the United States extending 12 nautical miles from the baselines of the United States determined in accordance with international law.

(2) Reasonable distance. The term reasonable distance, as used in section 287(a) (3) of the Act, means within 100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States or any shorter distance which may be fixed by the chief patrol agent for CBP, or the special agent in charge for ICE, or, so far as the power to board and search aircraft is concerned any distance fixed pursuant to paragraph (b) of this section.

8 USC § 1357 - Powers of immigration officers and employees:

(a) Powers without warrant
Any officer or employee of the Service authorized under regulations prescribed by the Attorney General shall have power without warrant—
[ … ]
(3) within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States, to board and search for aliens any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railway car, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle, and within a distance of twenty-five miles from any such external boundary to have access to private lands, but not dwellings, for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States;

Would the definition of “external boundary” be read as not applying to airports? I googled a lot, but mostly came up with people asking about airports and no one saying that they were 100% either way.

One criticism of the map that I saw was that it should not be following the land lines in the Michigan area. I found some other “100 mile boundary” maps that where created when Congress tried to pass some laws that would allow DHS to ignore environmental laws within 100 miles of the border (HR1505 and HR2578). This map goes across Lake Michigan, as do this map and this map (although the last two do not include the east/west coasts for some reason).

So the short answer is that I have lots of maps, but no definite answer :confused:

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Most of the laptop searches will be at airports, surely.