Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act

An earlier post on the BLS Library Blog discussed plans by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to search and seize electronic devices at border crossings into the US. Now, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has introduced in Congress the Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act of 2008 to ensure that American citizens and legal residents returning to the US from overseas are not subject to invasive searches of their laptops or other electronic devices without any suspicion of wrongdoing. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The bill, which is in the Congressional Record with Sen. Feingold’s introductory remarks, would require customs agents to have reasonable suspicion before searching the contents of laptops or other electronic equipment and sets a probable cause requirement in order to obtain a warrant, while allowing customs agents to hold on to the equipment pending a ruling on the warrant application. Besides subjecting laptop examinations at border crossings to the judicial process and ending indiscriminate ransacking of data, the legislation would ban profiling based on the traveler’s ethnicity, allow the traveler to witness the process, limit the time that officials can hold the traveler’s equipment and provide for compensation for damages to a traveler’s computer. The bill limits its protection to citizens and legal residents of the US.