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The DHS has issued formal rules to govern how Immigration and Customs authorities handle the seizure of electronic devices and records. The upshot is that agents can still keep your hardware for at least five days before anyone has to decide whether it's reasonable to continue.
The ability to arbitrarily seize personal electronic devices, from laptops to iPods, has concerned everyone from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to a business travelers trade group, and prompted the introduction of a bill in Congress that would call on the DHS to clarify its rules. On Thursday, the DHS did precisely that, providing a set of standards for the handling of personal electronics and data. The new rules are unlikely to end the controversy, however, as they continue to leave major decisions up to the discretion of DHS employees.
So, for example, the document states that the owner of a device should be present when its contents are examined, but carves out so many vague exceptions—"unless there are national security, law enforcement, or other operational considerations that make it inappropriate to permit the individual to remain present"—that it's not clear that the principle would have any practical impact. In the same manner, it lays out the principle that the hardware should be returned to its owner as soon as possible, but only "when appropriate, given the facts and circumstances of the matter." And that's after the agent has been given the opportunity to copy all of the device's data.