Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Suspicionless electronic border searches are unreasonable

Back in March we learned that Customs wants the right to search all your data whenever you enter New Zealand, without suspicion - and jail you if you refuse to give them all your passwords. Meanwhile, in the US, a Federal judge has just ruled such suspicionless electronic border searches unconstitutional:

A federal judge said the search of a traveler's laptop at a Los Angeles airport was "unreasonable," and violated his constitutional privacy protections.

In an opinion released Friday, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson allowed a defendant to suppress evidence collected from his laptop in 2013, dealing a blow to the government's argument that he was selling aircraft parts illegally to embargoed Iran.

Jackson said the search should not have happened because at the time it was "supported by so little suspicion of ongoing or imminent criminal activity," adding that the search was "invasive" of the traveler's privacy.

What should have been a routine border inspection was anything but, Jackson wrote, because the laptop was taken 150 miles away so its data could be downloaded and stored for an indefinite period.

And that's the problem right there: an electronic "search" isn't a search, but a wholesale copying and retention for future unspecified uses of every aspect of our lives. And the data isn't just kept by Customs, but can be turned over to the police, foreign agencies, or even the SIS. Its an invitation to police to circumvent normal warrant requirements, for customs to sell out our privacy for "brownie points" from foreigners, and to the government to target their political opponents - something we're already beginning to see. And that's why we should not allow such suspicionless searches. If Customs wants to perv through our data, they should do what the police have to: get a warrant.