back to article US government sued by 11 pissed-off travellers over computer searches

The US Department of Homeland Security is being sued by 11 travellers who had their smartphones and laptops seized and searched at the US border. The lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) claims that the searches were unconstitutional. Ten of the 11 …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So if you travel to the US, leave your smart phone behind and go with a feature phone instead. Perhaps Nokia (whoever they are now) knew exactly what they were doing when they re-released the 3310.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      "So if you travel to the US" Don't! There's a whole world out there,hopefully there are still bits of it that respect individual rights. So far where I live is still fairly easy going.

      I have friends in the States but if I decided to go visit I think I would buy a cheap phone when I get there rather than take any of my electronics with me, (and maybe put one of my sims in a sock!).

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        oh i can see that sim in your sock being laughed at as ajoke by border agents. you'll be fine if they find that in sure.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As much as I love the country

    this is another reason I'm not coming back to "the land of the free".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As much as I love the country

      Barbra Streisand, is that you?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perceived threat versus actual threat can be used to allow government overreach.

    It's wrong and it will deter many professionals from going to America.

    Don't be surprised when it backfires.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      It will also deter many American professionals and non-professionals from going out of the country for business, vacation, etc. I think the backlash is starting with this particular lawsuit as this just isn't "foreigners" entering but citizens of the US coming back into the country.

      If I were paranoid I'd believe that TSA has the philosophy that 'if you leave, don't come back' about US citizens. Bunch of little Nazis the TSA is.

      As for the agents... not exactly cream of the crop folks. The few that I've known (as neighbors) are insufferable egomaniacs.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "Bunch of little Nazis the TSA is."

        Actually the ones at Newark I saw a while ago weren't so little. More this size

  4. Youngone

    Geheime Staatspolizei

    Whenever I se the phrase "Homeland Security" I get a picture in my head of men in smart uniforms getting onto trains and calling out "papers please"!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "People of color"?

    You mean "non-whites"? It isn't the eighties anymore.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "People of color"?

      whites have more colours than any other race

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "People of color"?

        That's interesting, because white isn't a race, it's just a colour. Ask any artist.

        Same with all the other colours, btw...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Boffin

          Re: "People of color"?

          Actually, white is a combination of primary colours.

          Its not strictly a colour, like black isn't a colour.

          1. Tom 38 Silver badge

            Re: "People of color"?

            Actually, white is a combination of primary colours.

            Its not strictly a colour, like black isn't a colour.

            "White" people aren't actually white though are they, its various shades of pink and brown. There is no-one whose natural shade is #ffffff.

            1. David Nash

              Re: "People of color"?

              Now you're being #ffffff-ist!

            2. Def Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: "People of color"?

              There is no-one whose natural shade is #ffffff.

              ORLY?

              https://i.imgur.com/fPUUf.jpg

    2. bexley

      these exploits are worthless

      No be means Black people but is afraid to say it.

      lol, ¨people of colour¨, what has the world come to.

      If we must be PC about it then how about ¨People of African ancestry¨ or simply African Americans

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: these exploits are worthless

        I'd like to know where they keep the up to date list of PC approved (and non-approved) words.

        I suppose most of us find out just by using the words and having the SJW's of the world come down like a ton of bricks to ruin our otherwise productive lives.

      2. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: these exploits are worthless

        "how about ¨People of African ancestry¨ or simply African Americans"
        Every living human on Earth is of African ancestry. Only a minority are American. Thank goodness!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: these exploits are worthless

          > "Every living human on Earth is of African ancestry."

          The large majority of humans on Earth are descended from one small group that went thru a genetic bottleneck 80 thousand years ago when they left Africa, plus a few randy Neanderthals around that time. ;-/

          Then there are those that remained behind on Africa. Their genetic diversity was never massively culled like that, so the bulk of human genetic diversity today resides on that supposedly dark continent.

          Now suddenly (in the last 500 years) all those diverse genes are spreading and greatly enhancing diversity elsewhere. In evolutionary terms this is a large event (for humans, anyway). It's also pretty much irreversible at this point, not that we'd want that.

      3. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: these exploits are worthless

        And that Zulu I met in South Africa, an African American African.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: these exploits are worthless

        "If we must be PC about it then how about ¨People of African ancestry¨ or simply African Americans"

        Which leaves out Asians, South Asians, Indians, the other Indians, native South Americans, Australian aborigines, and white people who have decided that they are not white....

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That humming noise

    Is the sound of George Orwell spinning in his grave.

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: That humming noise

      No, it's the sound of his ghost whispering "told you so".

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: That humming noise

      The Department of Energy is trying to figure out how to harness the spin of him and many of the Founding Fathers as well as many dead citizens to generate massive amounts of electric power.

      1. GrapeBunch Silver badge

        Re: That humming noise

        Dick is dead, but a combo world of Ubik and Remoronity Import might see gov't agents visit the dead to convict them of post-crime. Philip K. is the first they'd approach. Wherever he is, he must be humming. If you thought: "Meh, this is bad, but when I die it will all be over", perhaps you didn't hear that hymn. Listen. It's faint, but if you cup your hand to your ear, you can hear Dick hum. Listen to Dick hum. It's faint, but it goes like this: "Bwahahahahahahahah"

        The next great OS should be named Govern, so that hipsters can get into Govern Mint. See Dick McGovern. See Dick eat McGovern, except for the catholic comix.

        I thought you could only sue McGovernment if they invited you. "Après vous, monsieur le Cœur de Lion en tête." "Non, merci, pas du tout." Did I think faux news?

  7. Christoph Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Not just searching for information

    The time that have your equipment for is ample for them to install software and/or hardware on it. Since you have no way to know whether they did so you will never be able to trust that equipment again.

    1. kmac499

      Re: Not just searching for information

      If I was carrying a works laptop\phone that was detained and taken to a seperate room for the old cyber rubber glove treament. I think I'd be tempted to say "Nah you can keep it now!".

      I also think I'd probabaly start the trip with a fresh and cheapest bit of kit I could find.

  8. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Stop

    Hang on a moment

    As we learned here, the EFF at one point received about 50% of their funding from Google, so perhaps their motivations are suspect and we should give the benefit of the doubt to the virtuous Homeland Security agents working tirelessly to protect America from miscreants of various stripes. After all, if Google is opposing it, no matter how tenuously, it can't be all bad, right?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hang on a moment

      Actually this IS bad, and it's the kind of thing the ACLU exists to reveal.

      The government claims that these devices are just that, devices. Objects on one's person. And such things have traditionally been subject to examination at most borders everywhere.

      But now there are devices that have complex connections to the larger cyberspace. They are much more than just objects, but the government wishes to continue the old way without pause, because it gives them new tools to pry into potential suspects' lives. Meanwhile the rest of us are becoming more and more exposed to the government personally.

      Left alone this will result at some point in a country where people can't/won't take those phones across borders, a great inconvenience. Further, this would set a precedent that seizing phones is okay, and the practice will most likely be extended inside the country too.

      The warrant requirement has 'solved' many contentious issues before, and it will do so again in this case. The government will just have to accept this as they did in the earlier warrant-related cases.

      The ACLU is doing their proper job here and I applaud them.

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Hang on a moment

      Sigh . . . evidently, I should have used the <sarcasm> tag.

      1. DryBones

        Re: Hang on a moment

        You need to remember to make your sarcasm further from the gormless zeal of those you parody.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hang on a moment

          It did seem out of character, but I'm not one to pass up any chance to pontificate. Besides, the downvotes can't be wrong, can they? ;-/

        2. GrapeBunch Silver badge

          Re: Hang on a moment

          Sarchasm, n. That's a cancer we can cure. No, really. The gap isn't in the credibility.

        3. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Re: Hang on a moment

          You need to remember to make your sarcasm further from the gormless zeal of those you parody.

          Whilst I agree, I simply don't see how that approach can be kept up due to the ever increasing rate of increase of zeal in the gormless.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hang on a moment

        Wait, what? You were using sarcasm? Who knew?

        I used sarcasm once, it was warm day back in 76, turned out alright as apparently it's not contagious.

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Hang on a moment

          "I used sarcasm once, it was warm day back in 76, turned out alright as apparently it's not contagious."

          I'm sorry to be the one to let you know but apparently it wasn't "alright" after all - you may have been asymptomatic all along but clearly you're still infected...

      3. Aitor 1 Silver badge

        Re: Hang on a moment

        You might claim sarcasm, but it is no different from many ppls point of view... so if you dont want to express said pov, just give something for ppl to figure it out.

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: Hang on a moment

          "if you dont want to express said pov, just give something for ppl to figure it out."
          Throatwarbler Mangrove can't possibly give out what's required: brains/intellect/comprehension!

  9. DougS Silver badge

    Face ID doesn't matter

    If customs officials are allowed to require you to provide your password as they apparently are. Law enforcement in the US is totally out of control and needs to be seriously reigned in. Hopefully we can start by NOT permanently approving (or re-approving at all!) section 702 like that idiot Sessions wants.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Hopefully we can start by NOT permanently approving (or re-approving at all!) section 702"

      My impression of US politicians is they move in a personal bubble and have the attention span of a gold fish with dementia.

      IOW No TSA officer will ever bother them, so they won't think it's a problem (I've been through Customs lots of time without a problem") and won't get bothered unless enough people start bothering them.

      So US readers, if you want this scrapped you'd better start bothering your them.

      Y'know, your elected representatives.

      Get them to start representing you.

  10. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Passwords

    On a related note, I am probably stuck behind the Trump's wall because I do not know my email password, etc. as I use a password manager installed only one computer, a desktop.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Passwords

      Off to Guantanamo for you, until you remember! We have ways of making you talk...

  11. Herby

    Searches, Searches...

    When you cross a frontier, EVERYTHING is subject to search for contraband. If a customs bozo opens up your suitcase and sees plans for (insert terrible thing here), what do you think he is going to do?

    Yes, the problem is now compounded with the amount of data you can carry in such a small space, but is just the same. Try going to places like China where after they seize your laptop they put monitoring software on to see what subversive stuff you are doing and what secrets they can have you graciously ship back to them for competitive reasons.

    I suspect the moral of the story is "Don't piss off a border agent".

    It would be nice if we didn't need to do such things, but that ideal world sadly doesn't exist.

    I'll probably get downvotes for this (*SIGH*)

    1. Filippo

      Re: Searches, Searches...

      If you're trying to argue that these searches are justified even in a free and democratic country, the comparison with China is not really helping.

      1. Def Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Searches, Searches...

        ...even in a free and democratic country.

        I thought we were talking about the US. Did I miss the change in topic again?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Searches, Searches...

      The article describes lawsuits being filed on behalf of people who sincerely believe you are utterly wrong. That a mobile phone (especially a smartphone) is explicitly not the same as a suitcase or other things which may or may not be searched.

      My solution to this is to back up everything to the Cloud before I go, restore my phone from my other, lightly used and completely clean user ID, then restore the real me when I get to my destination.

      Posting anon as even this simple post almost certainly amounts to cause in the National Socialist States of America and their jumped-up little SS blueshirts at the border.

    3. User McUser
      Big Brother

      Re: Searches, Searches...

      When you cross a frontier, EVERYTHING is subject to search for contraband.

      OK, fine search my bags for illegal fruit and/or drugs; but I ask you this - what could *possibly* be stored on a phone that a customs agent needs to see?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm not sure why getting a warrant for a search of a US citizens property is such a problem...

    Usually the "process" starts with the "suspect" acting suspicious. Then, there would be a search of the vehicle. At the end of that, there should be enough "evidence" to get a warrant, or the person gets waved though the checkpoint.

    Border security seems to be experiencing "mission creep". If they've somehow become trained Detectives & Judges they probably need a raise...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    America is in decline! Go elsewhere if you can. Don't buy promise of a better life there, its a lie!

    "These searches are extremely intrusive and government agents shouldn't be conducting them without cause. Investing border agents with this kind of authority invites abuse and discrimination and will inevitably have a chilling effect on the freedoms of speech and association. That chilling effect will be especially significant for racial and religious minorities and for journalists and lawyers whose work requires them to keep information confidential."

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere

      Problem is, it feels like everywhere is in decline.

      It's partly what drives the paranoia behind the border intimidation - and of course governmental response to a changing world political climate naturally just exacerbates the situation.

      I get the feeling we'll be getting nostalgic for the mostly stable 'high' civilisation of the cold war soon.

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere

        Go to Canada, eh? Friendly folk, poutine and maple syrup. What's not to love?

        1. Paul Herber Silver badge

          Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere

          Canada is fine, but not for a whole weekend.

        2. Potemkine! Silver badge

          Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere

          What's not to love?

          Weather.

          That's probably why Canadians are the bigger emitter of greenhouse gas per capita, it's their secret plan to get a warmer one.

        3. DropBear Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere

          Wait, is that the same Canada where a commercial company's _front webpage_ (the one you're supposed to be landing on you know) flat out showed me a company header above a blank page saying only "you are being geo-blocked wholesale because fuck Europe" (possibly sans the explicit latter part)? Not "we're unable to deliver there" mind you, or "you can't register from there" - no, plain effing "YOU NO LOOK MY WEBSITE YOU HEAR!". That Canada or a different one...?

        4. Def Silver badge

          Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere

          I always get putain and poutine mixed up. Which one does Canada have again?

          1. Tom 38 Silver badge

            Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere

            I always get putain and poutine mixed up. Which one does Canada have again?

            In the very best Montreal bordellos, you can get both!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: America is in decline! Go elsewhere if you can...

      Then why is there such a problem with immigration there? Illegals, H1B's, 'Dreamers', seems like a LOT of people think it's better there than the alternatives.

  14. Cheshire Cat

    Happened to me as well

    A few years ago, I was travelling to the US. The security goons demanded I start up my laptop, log in -- and then they took it away for 20 min without a word. I assume they were cloning the hard drive. Then they brought it back without a word, and sent me on to the frisking and shoe-xraying. Not a word of explanation, not a word of thanks.

    Were I bringing in anything dodgy, I'd have encrypted it and hidden it on a website somewhere for late download; so the whole things was intrusive and pointless.

    Of course, I am an Evil Foreigner (albeit white and non-beardy) so presumably I'm fair game.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Of course, I am an Evil Foreigner"

      Yes. For the TSA that really is "probable cause."

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Joe Werner Silver badge

    What about us foreigners?

    The case explicitly states that the warrant would be needed for US citizens and residents. I guess we will still be fair game then...

    I actually do take my old netbook when traveling - though mostly because it is smaller, lighter and the batteries last longer than my new laptop. And since my cell phone is ancient (8 years?), it is a pain to use email (well anything) on it - thus: no accounts set up. I wish it would break so I can get a new one ;)

    Although I should add that my experience with the US CBP(right?) and TSA has been ok so far, mostly friendly or at least the normal neutral business-like behaviour - or actually more often "I have been here all morning, it's time for a break, please let there be no trouble" - smile at them, say good morning, behave like a civilised person should (they even smile back sometimes).

    I was stopped at the Canadian border, actually twice, (both times on the way into Canada), and both times it took quite a bit longer than any time I went into the US (except for the mile long queue in front of the counters).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about us foreigners?

      "The case explicitly states that the warrant would be needed for US citizens and residents. I guess we will still be fair game then..."

      US policy explicitly states than non-residents have no rights, period.

      This is probably not wholly legal, even in the US, but which do you think CBP, TSA and other TLAs will follow - policy or the constitution?

  17. Slx

    You used to only expect this in undemocratic authoritarian states...

    The is the kind of thing you used to expect when entering strange authoritarian states with extreme, paranoid regimes and definitely not the US or other countries that would claim to be bastions of freedom.

    It's very like what you might have experienced living in East Germany.

  18. mrmond

    "Must be typing it in wrong"

    For such occasions I once had a device and told officials the password was the entire alphabet in lower case. Then had a few minutes of perverse pleasure as they typed every single letter of the alphabet slowly time and again, explaining they must be typing it in wrong as I'd given them the exact password when they had asked. "theentirealphabetinlowercase"

    They never did see the funny side...

    1. kelbag

      Re: "Must be typing it in wrong"

      My password reset of choice whilst on the Helldesk was "onetwotenfullstop"

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mwahaha

    Take a dummy notebook with some rewiring and sufficient processing power to run a script.

    Said script to detect connection on whatever port (serial/usb/ethernet) and squirt the Independence Day Goldblum universal virus down it, followed by unloading the battery, through an inverter to a port frying voltage, followed by playing Keep the Red Flag Flying at top volume through the speaker.

  20. JaitcH
    FAIL

    Carry Two Cell Handsets and a Concealed SD Card

    Naturally, the SD Card will have your goodies on it whilst the two cell handsets can be used to confuse the Border Plod / TSA / ICE.

    Make one a basic cell handset - often called a burner - and the other a smart cell. When the aforementioned nosy pigs request your goods - just hand them the burner which will be promptly handed with a derisory look on the officials face.

    If they ask for 'anything else' just carry on ignoring their request. Please remember outright lying (a la Trump) is a Federal felony in the USA. Loading a soft (non-extreme) porn movie distracts them.

    Also, never travel with SIMs installed - No SIM = No Good Data.

    Given the number of people who seem to reading others screens these days, you can now purchase polarised plastic overlays which will stop this practice.

  21. M7S
    Coat

    "Knight First Amendment Institute"

    Did they have an industrial division back in the eighties (although the number two thousand may be relevant here) that made cars, possibly with an "autopilot" that actually did what it said on the tin?

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