Chertoff Misleads on Laptop Searches, Feingold Charges
Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold opposes border agents searching through Americans’ laptops without cause, and he doesn’t like how Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff articulated the government’s current policy in an interview with Threat Level on Monday.
In that conversation, Chertoff said that in practice, border agents rely on a real suspicion to decide whose laptop to look into or even seize, but that he opposes creating a legal standard for searching Americans’ electronics at the border since it would just lead to too much litigation.
Feingold, an outspoken civil libertarian — the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act — begs to differ.
Secretary Chertoff’s description of the newly published DHS policy on laptop searches was not just misleading – it was flat-out wrong. In an interview with Wired.com, the Secretary stated that "[w]e only do [laptop searches] when we put you into secondary [screening] and we only put you into secondary [screening] … when there is a reason to suspect something."
But the actual policy that DHS published says the exact opposite. It does not even mention secondary screening, let alone limit laptop searches to those cases, and it expressly states that Americans’ laptops may be searched "absent individualized suspicion."
Secretary Chertoff’s blatant mischaracterization of the DHS policy contradicts his claim to be engaging in greater "openness and transparency" on this important issue. His statements make it clearer than ever that as we work to protect our national security, Congress must also act to protect law-abiding Americans against highly intrusive searches.
DHS spokesman Russ Knocke dismissed Feingold’s statement, calling it "sour grapes and paranoia from someone who can’t accept that even the 9th Circuit ruled that what we’re doing is constitutional."
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the most liberal of the appeals circuit, ruled in May that border agents did not need any reason to look through a laptop, reversing a lower court that decided that laptops were closer to extensions of ourselves, than the modern analogue of a suitcase.