Glenn Greenwald has written about the federal government’s common practice of seizing laptops and smart phones of American citizens who are re-entering the United States and reviewing their private data. Amazingly, our government is seizing this personal data without probable cause and even without reasonable suspicion:
When you really think about it, it’s simply inconceivable that the U.S. Government gets away with doing this. Seizing someone’s laptop, digging through it, recording it all, storing the data somewhere, and then distributing it to various agencies is about the most invasive, privacy-destroying measure imaginable. A laptop and its equivalents reveal whom you talk to, what you say, what you read, what you write, what you view, what you think, and virtually everything else about your life. It can — and often does — contain not only the most private and intimate information about you, but also information which the government is legally barred from accessing (attorney/client or clergy/penitent communications, private medical and psychiatric information and the like). But these border seizures result in all of that being limitlessly invaded. This is infinitely more invasive than the TSA patdowns that caused so much controversy just two months ago.
But how often are these e-strip searches occurring?
[T]his is happening to far more than people associated with WikiLeaks. As a result of writing about this, I’ve spoken with several writers, filmmakers, and activists who are critics of the government and who have been subjected to similar seizures — some every time they re-enter the country.
But this is the tip of the iceberg:
A FOIA request from the ACLU revealed that in the 18-month period beginning October 1, 2008, more than 6,600 people — roughly half of whom are American citizens — were subjected to electronic device searches at the border by DHS, all without a search warrant.
I highly recommend reading Greenwald’s detailed article for the reaction to this practice by a smattering of members of Congress and by a few court decisions. The sad bottom line is that there is no political momentum to condemn and bar this practice, even in the context of ubiquitous rhetoric regarding the need to limit the power of the federal government.