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December 25, 2005 11:24 PM Subscribe
Just how much are the customs/Department of Homeland Security people allowed to go through your personal information on your laptop?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Okay, this may sound a bit naive, but bear with me.
I just flew back to the US from Asia and upon arriving in San Francisco International Airport everyone has to go through the customs two step. That's normal; I assume it's because they probably get a lot of people trying to smuggle drugs back or what have you.
As I approached the counter, one of the guys asked if I had a digital camera or a laptop computer. Laptop I said, patting my backpack.
Now, in the past, whenever I have travelled with a laptop the security people -- that is, the folks who x-ray your stuff before you can board -- would swipe it with special Q-Tips (I believe testing for the presence of chemicals/gases), maybe ask me to start it up or wake it from sleep just to make sure it was in fact a working laptop.
This was the first time however that I had flown into the US with my laptop.
So after checking my "normal" luggage, the man takes the laptop over to a desk, plugs it in and boots it up. A minute later he calls me over, turns the laptop to face me and asks me to type in my login password -- the optional password you can set up on a Mac so that you have to type it in before you can get access.
I type it in, and he turns the laptop back around and starts mousepadding around. This is taking a while I think, I mean, obviously it boots up and it's a regular working computer. I pass my time watching one of the guards going through another flyer's luggage. A few minutes later my guy says "Okay, I give up, can you show me where you keep the photos?". So I open the Applications folder and launch iPhoto which has most of my photos.
Now, I'm guessing they're looking for photos of you and your friends at some Vietnamese opium bar, clutching full Ziploc bags and pointing at your suitcase, or something more nefarious like people shooting AK-47s in a camp in the desert.
My question is : ...going through your personal files/photos without any sort of suspicion/warrant... is all of this legal? Isn't there some sort of self-incrimination thing at play here? Or does it fall under the category of "Man, if you're stupid enough to document your idiocy...."?