Business travelers have a new issue to worry about. U.S. border patrols have the right to search and seize your laptops and are doing it more frequently now. The searches are no longer just for explosives or other contraband. Now the searches include the content of the PC, including pictures and emails. Once confiscated, a laptop may or may not be returned.
Appeals are under way in some cases, but the law is clear. “They don’t need probable cause to perform these searches under the current law. They can do it without suspicion or without really revealing their motivations,” said Tim Kane, a Washington lawyer who is researching the matter for corporate clients.
Laptops may be scrutinized and subject to a “forensic analysis” under the so-called border search exemption, which allows searches of people entering the United States and their possessions “without probable cause, reasonable suspicion or a warrant,” a federal court ruled in July.
Aside from the inconvenience of losing your laptop during travel, this issue brings up several other issues.
- Employees may arrive at their destination without the needed tools and data to perform their job.
- Company or customer confidential data may be subject to an unknown number of eyes as it travels through the government confiscation process.
Tips to lessen the impact of a laptop confiscation.
- Backup data to alternate devices, such as thumb drives.
- Email and/or overnight mail data and/or equipment to the destination ahead of the employee.
- Encrypt sensitive data on laptops - this should already be done anyways to avoid litigation and other problems from loss or theft of equipment.
- Make sure travel laptops are cleaned of all personal/questionable data prior to travel or return travel, especially photos and browser caches and histories. If companies have separate laptops designated specifically for travel, this will avoid the inevitable conflicts arising from the requirement to remove all personal data and images that the employee may not want to part with.