Curb DHS’s authority to seize laptops and handheld devices

Most Americans would be shocked to learn that when they return from an overseas trip, the Department of Homeland Security could confiscate their laptop, personal digital assistant (PDA) or any other piece of personal electronics equipment — without cause. And copy all the material on that electronic device. And keep it for an indefinite period of time.

But that is precisely DHS policy, and it needs to be changed.

The Travelers Privacy Protection Act (S. 3612), authored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) would require border agents to justify at least a “reasonable suspicion” of wrongdoing before confiscating a laptop computer. And if it’s confiscated for more than 24 hours, it becomes a “seizure,” which would require a court order to continue.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) recently introduced the Border Search Accountability Act (H.R. 6869) that would, among other things, require DHS to issue receipts for the property it confiscates and create a way for innocent travelers to complain about abuse.

Neither bill has much of a chance to pass in this Congress, but both warrant serious consideration in the next. The United States can protect itself from potential terrorists without the kind of arbitrary property seizures that violate the basic tenets of a free society.


Poor picks for judges, poor view of Senate role

From Glenn Sugameli, senior judicial counsel, Earthjustice

The article “Bush: Senate should take up judges this year” (Oct. 6) merely quotes from President Bush’s latest unjustifiable effort to blame the Senate for what he calls a “broken confirmation process” for lifetime judges.

Bush’s actions belie his words. Repeatedly, he has pressured the Senate to confirm judges who would further political agendas by rewriting our Constitution.

 Bush’s selections have been confirmed when he has respected the Senate’s constitutional advise-and-consent role and abandoned his frequent refusals even to discuss nominees. Indeed, the Senate confirmed 326 of Bush’s judicial nominees and cut vacancies by more than half.

The article also reports that President Bush “extoll[ed] the qualities of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.”

Roberts and Alito, however, fell one vote short of gutting basic water and air pollution laws.

In the Rapanos case, Roberts and Alito voted to ignore the text and purpose of the Clean Water Act and to expose tributaries, streams, and millions of acres of wetlands to unregulated pollution and destruction.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, Roberts and Alito tried to create a Clean Air Act exception to exclude vehicle emissions that cause global warming. Alito also joined a Roberts dissenting opinion that interpreted the Constitution to immunize EPA’s refusal to enforce Clean Air Act global warming provisions. Their dissent would have barred any such suit by states and citizens, while allowing polluters to challenge any global warming rules that might cost them money.

Alito wasn’t involved in the Exxon Valdez case. Roberts, however, provided the necessary vote to invent a maximum one-to-one ratio of punitive to compensatory damages in order to overturn as excessive a jury verdict that was a tiny fraction of ExxonMobil’s profits.


Lance’s tentative lead in New Jersey’s 7th

From Patrick Murray, Polling Institute director, Monmouth University

The article “Independent poll has Lance leading” (Oct. 6) may mislead readers about the findings of a poll I conducted.

The article states that the poll in New Jersey’s 7th congressional district “shows Republican state Sen. Leonard Lance in decent shape to hold onto the House seat of retiring Rep. Mike Ferguson (R).”

The reporter notes that the poll indicates Lance has “a slight 43-39 lead” over Democratic state Assemblywoman Linda Stender, but doesn’t note that the lead is within the margin of error for the poll. Also, she should have noted that Lance’s lead is tentative rather than “decent,” with high undecideds and other indications that Democrats could have a turnout advantage on Election Day.

I bring this to your attention since many people outside of New Jersey who are tracking congressional races turn to your publication for information on what’s going on here, and they may come away with the impression that this race is trending a certain way when it is really up in the air right now.

West Long Branch, N.J.