Official Laptop Search Documents Reveal Sloppy Data Handling

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU demanded documents concerning the Customs and Border Protection's policies for searching laptops and other electronic devices at the United States' international borders. The first batch of documents is now available. And disturbing.

The ACLU was quite thorough and analysed the documents - which detailed searches of not just laptops, but digital cameras, thumb drives, hard drives, and even DVDs as well - to produce some easy to digest spreadsheets. Based on a glance at those spreadsheets, the CBP seemed to take advantage of the fact that "under the current policy, they were not required to justify a single one of these searches".

It's explained that those searches are generally done due to "individualised suspicion of wrongdoing, but CBP's policy allows officials to exercise their power arbitrarily". You know what? This may sound insane, but I think that I can deal with somewhat unjustified searches like that. It's alright, I've got time to waste when travelling and there doesn't seem to be any harm in it, except when I get to this part:

Between July 2008 and June 2009, CBP transferred electronic files found on travelers' devices to third-party agencies almost 300 times. Over half the time, these unknown agencies asserted independent bases for retaining or seizing the transferred files. More than 80 percent of the transfers involved the CBP making copies of travelers' files.

So who exactly is getting to see my occasionally inappropriate vacation pictures and what do they do after taking a peek? That's the part which troubles me. If I somehow prompt a search, I'm fine with it. Look at my browsing history, ebook collection, odd music library, whatever you want, but give me assurance that my data is safe.

I'll be reserving my full-on whining tantrum until I finish reading the whole 863 page batch of documents, but so far I'm not exactly a happy camper. Did you catch anything that particularly freaked you out in there? [ACLU]

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