U.S. federal agents have been given new powers to seize travelers’ laptops and other electronic devices at the border and hold them for unspecified periods the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Under recently disclosed Department of Homeland Security policies, such seizures may be carried out without suspicion of wrongdoing, the newspaper said, quoting policies issued on July 16 by two DHS agencies.
Agents are empowered to share the contents of seized computers with other agencies and private entities for data decryption and other reasons, the newspaper said.
DHS officials said the policies applied to anyone entering the country, including U.S. citizens, and were needed to prevent terrorism.
The measures have long been in place but were only disclosed in July, under pressure from civil liberties and business travel groups acting on reports that increasing numbers of international travelers had had their laptops, mobile phones and other digital devices removed and examined.
The policies cover hard drives, flash drives, cell phones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes — as well as books, pamphlets and other written materials, the report said.
The policies require federal agents to take measures to protect business information and attorney-client privileged material. They stipulate that any copies of the data must be destroyed when a review is completed and no probable cause exists to keep the information.
So far, federal courts have backed up such policies.
In late April, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a “reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border.”
The finding overturned a lower court ruling that found laptop searches by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents violated the Fourth Amendment against unlawful search and seizure.