Back before I decided to downgrade career-wise to stay at home with my kids, I had to do a lot of traveling for my job, laptop, PDA, etc. in tow. Of course, this was pre-9/11, so I also didn't have to worry about removing my shoes, carrying water bottles or full body x-rays. Even last summer, we brought our laptop with us when we went to Europe so that I could work on my writing projects. I can't begin to express my outrage at the thought that the government would feel they have the right to seize that work without reasonable suspicion. And I have a clearly European surname. What would it be like for honest, law-abiding citizens with a Middle-Eastern name?
If you enter or leave the United States carrying a laptop, flash drive or cell phone, the government can collect and store a massive amount of personal information without first obtaining a warrant, having probable cause or even suspecting you of anything.
During a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said the government needs to institute safeguards to protect Americans' privacy rights, and he accused the Department of Homeland Security of ducking from scrutiny of its overreach in searching electronics. DHS refused to send a representative to the hearing and secretary Michael Chertoff did not answer written questions from Feingold.
"Once again, this administration has demonstrated its perverse belief that it is entitled to keep anything and everything secret from the public it serves and their elected representatives, while Americans are not allowed to keep any secrets from their government," he said. "That's exactly backwards."
Fourth Amendment protections are less stringent at points of entry into the US. Courts have ruled that routine searches are permissible because the government's interest in keeping dangerous and illegal materials out of the country makes such searches "reasonable" without additional justification. For more invasive searches, such as strip-searches and x-rays, a customs agent must be able to show the person they are searching is likely a criminal.[..]
The laptop seizures have proved especially worrisome for business travelers, who could be crippled if they were unable to access data on a laptop seized by the government, said Susan Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
A survey of business travelers found that 7 percent had their laptops or other electronic device seized by the government, Gurley testified.
The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) defended the administration's random, suspicionless searches of laptop computers. It took him just over a minute during his opening remarks to play the 9/11 card, observing that plotter Zacarias Moussaoui used the same kind of computer favored by scores of business travelers, students and other law-abiding Americans.
"We also know that terrorists take advantage of this kind of technology," Brownback said, referring to laptop computers. "Mr. Moussaoui, for example, kept information on his laptop computer that if discovered might've prevented the Sept. 11 terror attacks. That's a sobering thought."
That's right, when it looks like we've turned into a fascist totalitarian state that laughs at the Fourth Amendment (it's not something critical like the Second Amendment, after all), invoke "maybe we could prevent another 9/11" card.