Department of Homeland Security Updates Border Search Rules On Electronic Media

As if you really needed one more reason to take the car, ferry or bicycle to your next destination, the Department of Homeland Security has just issued another update to its long list of search rules that'll most certainly spark up some debate. Thankfully for those with United States passports, this one probably won't have a serious impact on you, but if a foreigner is in front of you in the line to get stamped into this nation, get ready for even more possible delays.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano recently announced new directives that clarify oversight for searches of computers and other electronic media at U.S. ports of entry. In short, this basically means that TSA officials and the like can now search one's digital files just as they can one's briefcase, notebook or bookbag. At first glance, this seems like a severe invasion of privacy. After all, would you really want someone with a badge sifting through your emails and "My Documents" folder?

As with most DHS initiatives, this one is also being made in the name of securing our borders. Napolitano calls this a "critical step designed to bolster the Department’s efforts to combat transnational crime and terrorism while protecting privacy and civil liberties."  While we're all about that, we're beginning to wonder just how much more difficult these folks can make travel. Secretary Napolitano had this to say on the matter:

"Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States. The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders."

The new directives address the circumstances under which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can conduct border searches of electronic media, with the full list available at

Supposedly, these will "enhance transparency, accountability and oversight of electronic media searches at U.S. ports of entry and includes new administrative procedures designed to reflect broad considerations of civil liberties and privacy protections—measures designed to ensure that officers and agents understand their responsibilities to protect individual private information and that individuals understand their rights."

At best, the plan could help uncover terrorist maps, plots or communication trails. At worst, it could simply hold things up at immigration lines. The note also makes clear that this red tape will most likely lead to agents asking notebook owners to simply power on their machine in order to show them that it's actually a notebook and not something else; of course, by making this information public, now the bad guys can disguise their home-grown evil OS with a fancy Windows overlay in order to get by with whatever they've got planned.

And you thought it couldn't get any worse than having to remove your notebook from your bag in order to get through airport security...