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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The US Gov Can Download the Entire Contents of Your Computer at Border Crossings

Hundreds of thousands of travelers cross US borders every day. And none of them—save the precious few with diplomatic immunity—have any right to privacy, according to Department of Homeland Security documents recently obtained by MuckRock.

The US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Privacy Impact Assessment for the Border Searches of Electronic Devices outlines the finer points of border officials’ authority to search the electronic devices of citizens and non-citizens alike crossing the US border. What becomes clear is that this authority has been broadly interpreted to mean that any device brought into or out of the country is subject to the highest level of scrutiny, even when there is no explicit probable cause.

Based upon little more than the opinion of a single US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, any device can be searched and its contents read. With approval from a supervisor, the device can be seized, its contents copied in full, or both.

How easy is it for officials to seize your data?

With the exception of foreign and domestic officials with diplomatic immunity, everyone who legally crosses a US border undergoes a primary inspection. This is a familiar routine for most travelers: A CBP official checks your documents, glances between you and your passport photo, and perhaps asks whether you’re travelling to the United States for business or pleasure.

Following this exchange, a traveler may be asked to undergo a secondary inspection. If this unfortunate traveler’s name is flagged—which it may be for a surprisingly large number of reasons—he or she almost certainly will be.

In 2013, DHS stopped Bradley Manning Support Network co-founder David House and confiscated his laptop, USB storage device, video camera and cellular phone. In that instance, the government settled with House after the ACLU helped to bring a lawsuit on his behalf. Over the course of this suit, documents obtained by the ACLU revealed that House had been selected for additional inspection because of a DHS “lookout” telling agents to stop him as he attempted to enter the country.

Travelers may also be randomly selected by a system referred to as COMPEX, a somewhat unwieldy acronym for “ Customs’ Compliance Measurement Examination.” This system randomly chooses travelers for additional screening. The results of these screenings are compared to screenings based on other selection criteria in order to assess their effectiveness.

Finally, the CBP official might refer a traveler based on his or her “own observations.” This final option is a particular cause for concern, because little explanation has been given as to what that might entail. As a recent piece for The Intercept demonstrated, at least one of the processes used by the TSA to flag potential terrorists can be used to justify detaining anyone.

If you are referred for a secondary inspection, your right to privacy is essentially moot. Either a CBP officer or an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent will likely question you and may inspect your possessions. This can mean anything from a quick look through your bags to copying and detaining your electronic devices—it’s up to the agent and his or her supervisor, not due process.

The document outlines the processes necessary for each step. For example, a CBP official needs to get approval from a supervisor before copying all of the data on your device, but an ICE special agent is permitted to do so on his or her own authority. Neither one seems to be required to inform you.

Facebook Faces Lawsuit for Amassing World’s Largest Stash of Facial-recognition Data

Lead plaintiff Carlo Licata claims Facebook began violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy act of 2008 in 2010, in a “purported attempt to make the process of tagging friends easier.”

Through its “tag suggestions” program, Facebook scans all pictures uploaded by users and identifies any Facebook friends they may want to tag, according to the April 1 lawsuit in Cook County Court.

Facebook got its facial recognition technology from the Israeli company Face.com, which Facebook later bought. Face.com is not a party to the lawsuit.