This travel alert from Raw Story should be of specific concern to lawyers and other professionals who store privileged information on their laptop and wireless devices:
Customs agents have the prerogative to examine and even copy data from travelling citizens' laptops they search, CNN's American Morning reports.
"A new alert for travellers: be careful what you store on your laptop or your BlackBerry when entering the United States," warns CNN's John Roberts. "Customs agents can examine your computer and even keep your private information."
CNN reporter Jeanne Meserve adds ominously, "Your banking records, your music choices, your emails, your business contacts -- all can be examined, copied and stored by the government when you enter the country, if they're in an electronic device."
One Pakistani-American IT consultant says that U.S. agents searched his computer on five occasions upon returning from overseas trips, even forcing him to give them access to confidential corporate information.
CNN reports on pending US litigation, seeking clarification of customs officials' authority:
Situations for travelers... are at issue in a lawsuit filed last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit accuses customs agents of "lengthy questioning and intrusive searches" and seeks clarification on the law that allows such searches.
The San Francisco, California-based foundation, which works to defend people's rights in the digital world, says it knows of more than a dozen cases in which electronic devices such as cell phones, BlackBerries, MP3 players and laptops have been searched by customs agents. In some cases, they have been confiscated and never returned.
"Plaintiffs seek agency records in order to determine what policies and procedures exist governing CBP's questioning and searches of individuals at the nation's ports of entry," the suit says.
The Customs and Border Protection defends the searches, saying the agency does not need to show probable cause to look inside suitcases or laptops. "We have broad search authority at the borders to determine admissibility and look for anything that may be in violation of criminal law," says agency spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger.
Hollinger says electronic devices could contain evidence of possible ties to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography and other criminal activities.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto