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DHS Introduces Rules for Airport Laptop Checks

There's nothing more annoying than doing the security dance with TSA officials at the airport; but hey, it keeps us all safe. As long as they're not hauling you off to inspect your luggage or perform a physical, the endless packing and repacking of laptops and electronics really isn't so bad.

One thing, though, that a lot of people have a problem with is the laptop checks DHS is allowed to do if they feel like it. Last year DHS polices came to light that said TSA could kidnap any device capable of storing information (including hard drives, flash drives, your cellphone, MP3 player, Kindle, pager, and any books or documents you happen to have lying around) for “a reasonable amount of time.” In other words, as long as they liked. Not only that, they could also share your data with other federal agencies or private entities for language translation, data decryption or, and this one is our personal favorite, “other reasons.”

The Obama administration this week unveiled new rules for searching computers and other electronic devices when people enter the United States. Designed to strike a balance between respecting travelers' privacy and protecting and securing the U.S. borders, the rules are a mix of good and bad as far as the average traveler is concerned.

According to PCWorld, DHS can still search electronic devices during border crossings without suspicion of wrongdoing. So even if you're not acting shady, they can still take away your computer. However, the revised rules stipulate that CBP must complete a search of an electronic device within five days and ICE must complete a search within 30 days.

DHS says that between October 1, 2008 and August 11, 2009, 221 million travelers were processed at U.S. borders and about 1,000 searches of laptop computers were conducted, of which 46 were in-depth examinations. Have you ever had an electronic device searched by DHS? Let us know in the comments below!