Risk
8/28/2009
02:44 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

DHS Clarifies Laptop Border Searches

The new rules leave open the possibility that travelers may face penalties for refusing to provide passwords or encryption keys.

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday released new directives covering border searches of electronic devices and media, but the government's rules leave open the question of whether individuals can be compelled to provide passwords and encryption keys.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in a statement characterized the rules as an attempt to balance the investigatory requirements for fighting crime and terrorism with privacy and civil liberties.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reconsider an appeals court ruling that laptops are like suitcases and can be searched at borders without reasonable suspicion.

Laptop searches remain an unusual event for travelers entering the country. More than 221 million travelers passed through U.S. ports of entry between Oct. 1, 2008, and Aug. 11, 2009, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These entries resulted in about 1,000 laptop searches, only 46 of which were in-depth.

Nevertheless, the DHS policy of treating laptops and electronic devices as the equivalent of suitcases and backpacks in terms of border searches has alarmed business travel and privacy groups.

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) claim that the government's right to seize, copy, and store information on electronic devices undermines the ability of businesses to protect confidential information and establishes an end-run around Fourth Amendment protection. They argue that the contents of an electronic device are particularly personal and that such devices shouldn't be governed by the rules for suitcases.

Marcia Hofmann, staff attorney at the EFF, says the new directives appear to be largely the same as past policy, although they do provide welcome specificity about border search procedures. "For example, the July 2008 border search policy issued by CBP said that agents could detain devices or copies for a 'reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search,' but it wasn't clear what a 'reasonable period of time' was," she explained in an e-mail. "The new directives specify actual time lines, which is a positive change."

Hofmann, however, said there is still room for improvement. The rules, she said, "still allow agents to search devices and information with no suspicion whatsoever that a traveler has committed any wrongdoing. I also think the question of how agents handle sensitive information remains very murky."

About two weeks ago, Nate Cardozo, open government legal fellow at the EFF, asked CPB through its online comment system, "If a CBP agent requests my password or encryption key and I refuse to provide it, will I be denied entry, will my laptop be seized, neither or both?"

The response, from a CPB employee identified as Frederick, was: "There is no concrete answer that can be given to your question since it is hypothetical. The outcomes you listed are possible, although a US citizen would not normally be denied entry. The actions that result from a denial to cooperate with a legal search are dependent on the applicable laws as well the discretion of the officers conducting the inspection."

In other words, a CBP officer could decide to detain a traveler who refused to provide the government with access to his or her device and data.

In a document titled "Foreign Travel Threat Assessment: Electronic Communications Vulnerabilities," published last June by the DHS's critical infrastructure threat analysis division, DHS urged business leaders and U.S. officials to "leave [electronic devices] at home" when traveling.

There's a big buzz surrounding Government 2.0 -- the revolution that's bringing the principles and value of the Web as a platform to the business of governing. Attend Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase and hear innovators show how this is really happening. At the Washington Convention Center, Sept. 8. Find out more and register.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Security Operations and IT Operations: Finding the Path to Collaboration
A wide gulf has emerged between SOC and NOC teams that's keeping both of them from assuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of IT systems. Here's how experts think it should be bridged.
Flash Poll
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
The transition from DevOps to SecDevOps is combining with the move toward cloud computing to create new challenges - and new opportunities - for the information security team. Download this report, to learn about the new best practices for secure application development.
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
In past years, security researchers have discovered ways to hack cars, medical devices, automated teller machines, and many other targets. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts researcher Samy Kamkar and Levi Gundert, vice president of threat intelligence at Recorded Future, to discuss some of 2016's most unusual and creative hacks by white hats, and what these new vulnerabilities might mean for the coming year.