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Feds Promise Faster Action, Transparency in Laptop Searches

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security promised to introduce reforms to its practice of searching laptops at U.S. Customs checkpoints, reports the Wall Street Journal. At present, policy allows checkpoint agents to randomly search the electronic devices of anyone passing through customs -- U.S. citizen or no -- without probable cause, or the traveler's permission.

Powerful entities like Wisconsin's Democratic Senator Russell Feingold and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have both voiced concerns with the policy, pushing for measures that would better protect civil liberties and ensure government accountability. Of the changes in policy, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Wall Street Journal that the government would begin to better document gadget searches and seizures, and return said gadgets more quickly to travelers. According to the policy changes, border agents will be able to hold devices for five days, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees will be able to do so for up to 30. Still, investigating agents will require neither a traveler's permission nor probable cause.

While Feingold seems content with the changes, the ACLU is not. On behalf of the organization, ACLU counsel Chris Calabrese told the Journal, "We are still talking about the searches of everyone's laptops without standards." It should be noted that, as invasive as all this might sound, such searches and seizures are rare (if you take the government's word for it, at least). The Feds claimed yesterday that -- from Oct. 1, 2008 up to a couple weeks ago -- only 1,000 laptops were taken from the hands of the 221 million travelers that passed through. Of those, officials said, only 46 were given in-depth inspections. [From: Wall Street Journal]

Tags: aclu, customs, government, homeland security, HomelandSecurity, laptop, privacy, top