Thursday, February 07, 2008


There is a disturbing story about seizure and inspection by U.S. Customs and TSA agents of electronic devices (laptop computers, cell phones, IPODs, etc) at border crossings. The story is by Ellen Nakashima, is titled “Clarity Sought on Electronic Searches: U.S. Agents Seize Travelers’ Devices: Travelers’ Devices Seized at Border,” The Washington Post, p. A1, Thursday, Feb. 7m 2007, link here.

There are multiple concerns. One is that government inspectors have sometimes erased sensitive data. Other is that many times people are carrying laptops belonging to employers and that trade secrets or private information is potentially compromised. Some employers have started cleaning hard drives of laptops before their associates travel with them, at least internationally. They depend on Internet access for all information then, which can present its own security hazards. People are also queasy that their own personal information or web surfing habits are suddenly subject to federal inspection, perhaps a Fourth Amendment issue. People might be exposed to arrest if illegal materials were found on laptops, even if they had never been uploaded to the Internet.

There used to be a common procedure at airports of asking people to turn on laptops in security lines. A traveler might need to be sure that his battery was operational and fully charged. I have been asked to turn on a laptop only once in perhaps fifteen trips with them, but I have never taken a laptop overseas.

The Post story indicates that Electronic Frontier Foundation will try to force the government to disclose its policies on border searches. The latest EFF link on the issue seems to be “Travel Screening” and it talks about ATS (Automated Targeting System) and “CAPPS II and Secure Flight”, here.

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