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Congress Must Investigate Electronic Searches at U.S. Borders

Broad Coalition Urges Hearings on Intrusive Search and Seizure of Electronic Devices
PRESS RELEASE
May 1, 2008
Broad Coalition Urges Hearings on Intrusive Search and Seizure of Electronic Devices

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a broad coalition, including civil rights groups, professional associations and technologists, called on Congress today to hold oversight hearings on the Department of Homeland Security's search and seizure of electronic devices at American borders.

The press has widely reported disturbing stories about U.S. citizens subject to intrusive searches of their laptops and cell phones. But a recent court decision found that customs officials can search travelers' computers at the border without suspicion or cause. In a letter sent to the House and Senate Homeland Security and Judiciary committees today, the coalition urges lawmakers to consider passing legislation to prevent abusive search practices by border agents and to protect all Americans from suspicionless digital border inspections.

"Our computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices hold a vast amount of personal information like financial data, health histories, and personal emails and letters," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "In a free country, the government cannot have unlimited power to read, seize, and store this information without any oversight."

So far, the Department of Homeland Security has refused to release its policies and procedures for conducting these intrusive searches. EFF and the Asian Law Caucus have filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security to obtain the information through the Freedom of Information Act.

"Your privacy could be at risk even if you don't travel yourself. Your financial institution, your insurer, and other enterprises hold extensive personal data about you and your family," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "If agents of those groups travel internationally, your information could be exposed to officials at the border or potentially copied and stored in government databases. Americans should know how and why electronic data is seized and kept by the government, and who is able to access it at the border and in the years afterwards."

In addition to EFF, the coalition signing today's letter includes more than 40 organizations and individuals, including the Association for Corporate Travel Executives, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Rutherford Institute, and prominent technologists such as Bruce Schneier and Whitfield Diffie.

For the full letter to Congress:
http://www.eff.org/press/archives/2008/05/01/border-search-open-letter

For more on EFF's suit on border searches:
http://www.eff.org/cases/foia-litigation-border-searches

Contacts:

Marcia Hofmann
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
marcia@eff.org

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
tien@eff.org

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