Border Crossings and Laptops - I don't get it

That's the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows: Simon posted US Homeland Security’s new rules on laptop searches for those crossing the border into the US. While there are some guidelines, they basically have the unfettered discretion to look at everything that is on one’s laptop.

Frankly, I don’t get it. It strikes me as a total waste of time and effort on their part. It inconveniences and intrudes on normal people crossing the border – with little chance of finding any terrorist or criminal information. And how are issues like trade-mark and copyright infringement relevant to crossing the border?

This strikes me as more security theatre.

The press release says in part:

“Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States,” said Secretary Napolitano. “The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders.”

Searches of electronic media, permitted by law and carried out at borders and ports of entry, are vital to detecting information that poses serious harm to the United States, including terrorist plans, or constitutes criminal activity—such as possession of child pornography and trademark or copyright infringement.

The new directives will also allow DHS to develop automated, comprehensive data collection and analytic tools to facilitate accurate, thorough reporting on electronic media searched at the border, the outcomes of those searches and the nature of the data searched—further enhancing transparency and accountability.

I tend to agree with the views of Mike Masnick of Techdirt. He comments in part:

I, like many others, have no problem with border searches of actual physical containers and luggage at the border. That makes perfect sense, because it’s physical goods that you’re purposely trying to bring directly into the country. You packed them with the specific idea of bringing them into the country.

But stuff on your laptop is different in two very important ways:

1.You mostly store everything on your laptop. So, unlike a suitcase that you’re bringing with you, it’s the opposite. You might specifically choose what to exclude, but you don’t really choose what to include. 2.The reason you bring the contents on your laptop over the border is because you’re bringing your laptop over the border. If you wanted the content of your laptop to go over the border you’d just send it using the internet. There are no “border guards” on the internet itself, so content flows mostly freely across international boundaries. Thus if anyone wants to get certain content into a country via the internet, they’re not doing it by entering that country through border control.

Thus, it makes little sense for border control to search the contents of your laptop other than if the gov’t wants a random “free pass” at checking out some content about you. … The whole claim that this has anything to do with screening materials entering the US is totally bogus.