Traveler, Beware

Do you routinely travel with your computer bag slung over one shoulder? A glance around any airport will show that many business travelers do these days. As if the whole process of air travel weren’t fraught with enough indignities, an article in today’s Boston Globe describes another, one that is new to me, thank heavens.

In her article, Laptop Seizures at Customs Cause Thorny Legal Dispute, Globe staff journalist Katie Johnston describes the plight of some travelers returning to the US after a trip outside the country. It seems that when they came though US Customs, their laptops were unceremoniously seized by Customs officials.

Writing about the experience of David House, a traveler returning to Chicago after a working vacation in Mexico, Johnston says, “They didn’t have a search warrant. They didn’t charge him with a crime. And there was nothing House could do about it.”

The government kept House’s computer for 49 days!

Sound like something you’d never expect to see here in the US? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Seems we were wrong.

“As long as they don’t use invasive techniques such as strip searches, government agents don’t need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to seize what they want – including laptops, a 2008 appeals court ruling held,” Johnston reports.

According the the article, this seeming violation at US ports of entry of our 4th Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure  is  what civil liberties activists are calling “Constitution-free zones.”


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