Yep. They can. 9th Circus Court of A Peel says so. Mind the slippery slope there, they just greased it for you.
So friends, if you are crossing the border, EVEN IF YOU ARE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN, may I suggest you make bloody good and sure you do it with a blank hard drive in your computer, blank SD chips in your phone and a blank pen drive. I mean, can you absolutely prove every single song and ring-tone on your phone/ipod/whatever was legally purchased? How about that copy of Windows XP, is it bootleg?
On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced new guidelines for searching and seizing electronic devices at the border. In a press release, DHS said the guidelines will "enhance and clarify oversight for searches of computers and other electronic media at U.S. ports of entry."
Rhetoric aside, in reality, not much has changed. Laptops and electronic gear can still be seized and held indefinitely; there's no requirement that they be returned to their owners after even six months or a year has passed, though supervisory approval is required if they're held for more than 15 days. The complete contents of a hard drive or memory card can be perused at length for evidence of lawbreaking of any kind, even if it's underpaying your taxes or not paying parking tickets.
This kind of open-ended scanning should worry anyone who travels internationally, not just privacy advocates. When we have laws like the No Electronic Theft Act, which makes sharing a sufficient number of MP3 files a federal crime, how many college students are unindicted felons? File this under the show-me-the-man-and-I'll-show-you-the-crime department.
You got receipts? On ya?
Didn't think so. Uncle Phantom says wipe it or leave it at home, kids. Mail an ENCRYPTED stick to yourself, just to be on the safe side. They can't open your mail without a warrant.
The Lead Foil Hat Phantom. (Because tin foil just isn't enough anymore.)