Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced new directives to enhance and clarify oversight for searches of computers and other electronic media at U.S. ports of entry.
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—consistent with the Department’s Constitutional authority to search other sensitive non-electronic materials, such as briefcases, backpacks and notebooks, at U.S. borders.
DHS said the directives 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.
DHS conducts border searches of computers and other electronic media on a small percentage of international travelers seeking to enter the United States—searches often as basic as asking a traveler to turn on a device to ensure it is what it appears to be.
Between Oct. 1, 2008, and Aug. 11, 2009, CBP encountered more than 221 million travelers at U.S. ports of entry. Approximately 1,000 laptop searches were performed in these instances—of those, just 46 were in-depth.
The new directives will also allow DHS to develop automated data collection and analytic tools to facilitate accurate, thorough reporting on electronic media searched at the border, the outcomes of those searches and the nature of the data searched.