A chilling article that’s must-reading for anyone who travels with a laptop, smartphone, or any other electronic device that stores personal data. Some snippets:
[At San Francisco International Airport] a tech engineer returning from a business trip to London objected when a federal agent asked him to type his password into his laptop computer. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he remembers protesting. “It belongs to my company.” Eventually, he agreed to log on and stood by as the officer copied the Web sites he had visited, said the engineer, a U.S. citizen who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of calling attention to himself.
“I was assured that my laptop would be given back to me in 10 or 15 days,” said Udy, who continues to fly into and out of the United States. She said the federal agent copied her log-on and password, and asked her to show him a recent document and how she gains access to Microsoft Word. She was asked to pull up her e-mail but could not because of lack of Internet access. [...] More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation.
The U.S. government has argued in a pending court case that its authority to protect the country’s border extends to looking at information stored in electronic devices such as a laptop without any suspicion of a crime. In border searches, it regards a laptop the same as a suitcase.
My view: Airport security officers should be there to check the materials you intend to bring into the airport for explosives or weapons. Not for content. Screen the computer to see if it’s loaded with plastic explosives, sure. But don’t read my e-mail. You shouldn’t be editing for content the books I bring onto the plane, you shouldn’t be viewing the phone numbers I dialed, or the web sites I accessed unless you have a warrant and I am a suspect in a crime. And even then, such a search should be conducted by appropriate law enforcement officers, such as the FBI.
But the current administration argues that things like warrants aren’t necessary at the border. Anything goes, regardless of the color of your passport. Here’s hoping the next president has the backbone to reassert some control over this runaway fearmongering security apparatus and reincorporate some basic all-American rights into the legal movement across our borders.
In the meantime, individuals and businesses need to be aware that anything electronic can be confiscated, copied, or destroyed if you’re arriving at an American airport from abroad. That means backing up and/or deleting anything of possible personal or business value. Simply renaming files, as suggested here over a year ago, may not cut it anymore.
- Rename filenames, avoid laptop confiscation
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