The Washington Post is reporting that US federal agents have been given new powers to confiscate electronics, including laptops.

According to the newspaper, agents can now seize travellers' laptops and other electronic devices at the US border and hold them for unspecified periods.

The leaked Department of Homeland Security policies reveal how seizures may be carried out without suspicion of wrongdoing.

Agents also now have the power to share the contents of seized computers with other agencies and private entities "for data decryption and other reasons".

DHS officials told the newspaper that the policies applied to anyone entering the country, including US citizens, and were needed to prevent terrorism.

The policies cover hard drives, flash drives, mobile phones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes - as well as books, pamphlets and other written materials.

The measures have actually been in place for a while but this is the first time they have been formally admitted to.