The chorus of folks singing "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" just got a little bigger and louder yesterday, after the Obama Administration issued "new" rules for border laptop searches that bear an uncanny resemblance to the old rules.
To recap: Last August, the lame-duck Bush Administration codified a longstanding policy that allowed Department of Homeland Security officials to seize travelers' laptops and other digital gear at the border -- with no questions asked and no guarantee of return. Earlier this week the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit demanding, among other things, to know whose laptops were seized and what happened to them.
Perhaps coincidentally, a day later DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano issued "new directives" regarding electronic border searches. The new rules are not a total stiff -- they put limits on the kinds of information DHS cops can look at, how long the DHS can hold onto your gear, and more oversight over the process. But many who'd hoped for a significant change in the way civil liberties have been abused by our Uncle over the last eight years are probably outside right now scratching the “Yes We Can” stickers off their bumpers.
Even the ACLU says border searches are necessary to ensure our safety. But like me, the group has more than a few problems with the how, the why, and the what.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, let's start with the lack of probable cause. The Obamanistas have left unchanged a Bush policy that allowed DHS agents to search any device of any traveler at any time -- no reason necessary. Look the wrong way at an airport security agent who's having a bad hair day, and say adios to your laptop, cell phone, iPod, digital camera, or virtually any other device more complicated than a hair dryer for up to 30 days.