In July 2008, the Department of Homeland Security made public a new policy on examining travelers' papers and electronic devices that finalized many of the changes first implemented in 2007. The agency did not disclose, however, how much the new policy deviated from rules that had been in place since 1986. The FOIA documents from ALC's and EFF's suit included the original policy, which had been adopted after a group of U.S. citizens challenged the practices of the 1980s as violating First Amendment rights.
"For more than 20 years, the government implicitly recognized that reading and copying the letters, diaries, and personal papers of travelers without reason would chill Americans' rights to free speech and free expression," said Shirin Sinnar, ALC staff attorney. "But now customs officials can probe into the thoughts and lives of ordinary travelers without any suspicion at all."
In February 2008, ALC and EFF sued the Department of Homeland Security for failing to disclose its policies on searching and questioning travelers at U.S. borders. ALC, a San Francisco-based civil rights organization, received more than two dozen complaints since last year from U.S. travelers, mostly of Muslim, South Asian, or Middle Eastern origin, who said they were grilled about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, or associations when returning to the United States from travels abroad. In addition, these individuals said that CBP agents examined their books, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories, and sometimes made copies of this information. The documents from the FOIA request show that CBP's wide latitude to collect this data attracted significant attention from other law enforcement agencies that sought to access it.
"Your laptop computer likely contains a massive amount of private information such as personal emails, financial data or confidential business records," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The Department of Homeland Security has given its agents increasingly broad authority to search, copy, and store that information. Congress needs to step in now to stop these invasive practices and protect travelers' privacy." http://7thspace.com/headlines/29358...r_to_read_and_copy_travelers_papers.html