In-cab laptops may be safe in AZ for now, but not at the border

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 8/4/2008

Planning to swap a load of car parts for tomatoes in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico?

You may want to leave your laptop in El Paso.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security recently confirmed that federal agents can seize –and have been seizing – laptop computers from cross-border travelers coming into the U.S. – and they will continue to do so. Agents don’t even have to list a reason why.

According to the “Leadership Journal” portion of the department’s Web site, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers encounter more than a million travelers every day at ports of entry coming into the U.S., and must enforce more than 600 federal laws.

“One of our most important enforcement tools in this regard is our ability to search information contained in electronic devices, including laptops and other digital devices, for violations of U.S. law, including potential threats,” the Homeland Security Web site states.

The agency’s Web site also states that officials don’t intend to subject legitimate travelers to “undue scrutiny, but to ensure the safety of the American public.”

“We have a responsibility to ensure that any item brought into the country complies with the law and is not a threat to the American public,” the Homeland Security Web site states. “To treat our inspections of digital media at the border any differently from any other documents or conveyances would give terrorists and criminals an advantage they should not have and that our nation cannot afford.”

To read the policy regarding border searches, click here.

The Homeland Security Department’s announcement isn’t the first time laptop computers in vehicles have popped up in news stories recently.

Arizona DOT officials acknowledged recently that they put on hold plans to enforce Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation Section 393.88 against drivers with laptop computers in their cabs. The regulation prohibits screens capable of receiving a television broadcast from being within a driver’s view.

Copyright © OOIDA