David Kirkpatrick

September 8, 2010

Department of Homeland Security sued for illegal search and seizure

This is a long overdue lawsuit. Unbeknownst to many United States citizens, if you leave the country with an electronic device — like a smartphone, cell phone, camera, or more likely, a laptop — your electronics can be seized, searched and contents archived by the Department of Homeland Security with no due process other than a field officer deciding you might be a threat to the nation.

I’ve blogged about this very topic a couple of times — first back in June 2008 and again in September 2009 — and my sense of outrage at the privacy and civil liberties violation hasn’t abated. Sure we need to protect the nation and monitor who comes and goes into and out of the country, but with the due process that represents the best of America. In the post-9/11 world, policies like this are slowly turning the United States into a police state that would be unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers.

From the first link:

Civil liberties groups sued the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, alleging that the government should not be able to search, copy or keep the data on electronic devices carried by people crossing the border without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Layers (NACDL) announced on Tuesday that they filed a lawsuit against the policy, arguing that Americans “do not surrender their privacy and free speech rights when they travel abroad.”

DHS policy says that electronic devices such as laptops, cameras and cell phones can be searched as a matter of course, and that the border agents can copy the contents of the devices in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S. — even if the traveler is not suspected of any wrongdoing. Information obtained by the ACLU indicated that over 6,600 travelers — nearly half of whom are U.S. citizens — had their electronic devices searched at the border between Oct. 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010.

Update 9/10/10 — In the meantime, here’s a CIO.com article on getting your data across the border while avoiding the invasive scrutiny of the DHS.

April 24, 2009

Search and seizure and data centers

Filed under: Business, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:34 pm

This ought to be troubling for anyone storing data anywhere other than a drive in their possession. Hopefully you’d at least be backed-up somewhere in your possession, but the idea your data could be indefinitely seized and pored over by the authorities should be very chilling. And as the article mentions, should be a significant aspect of the the cloud computing argument.

From the link:

The FBI’s target in the data center raid—one of five seizures conducted that day—is simply listed as Cabinet 24.02.900 in the affidavit and search warrant.

Cabinet 24.02.900 allegedly held the computers and data used to serve voice-over-IP clients for the companies at the center of the case. Yet, it was also home to the digital presence of dozens of other businesses, according to press reports. To LiquidMotors, a company that provides inventory management to car dealers, the servers held its client data and hosted its managed inventory services. The FBI seizure of the servers in the data center rack effectively shut down the company, which filed a lawsuit against the FBI the same day to get the data back.

“Although the search warrant was not issued for the purpose of seizing property belonging to Liquid Motors, the FBI seized all of the servers and backup tapes belonging to Liquid Motors, Inc.,” the company stated in its court filing. “Since the FBI seized its computer equipment earlier today, Liquid Motors has been unable to operate its business.”

The court denied the company’s attempt to get its data back, but the FBI offered to copy the data to blank tapes to help the company restart its services, according to a report in Wired.

The incident has worried IT managers, especially those with a stake in cloud computing, where a company’s data could be co-mingled with other businesses’ data on a collection of servers.

“The issue, I think, is one of how search and seizure laws are being interpreted for assets hosted in third-party facilities,” James Urquhart, manager of Cisco Systems’ Data Center 3.0 strategy, said in a recent blog post. “If the court upholds that servers can be seized despite no direct warrants being served on the owners of those servers—or the owners of the software and data housed on those servers—then imagine what that means for hosting your business in a cloud shared by thousands or millions of other users.”

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