According to this CNN story, U.S. customs can legitimately and legally confiscate the laptop of anyone entering the country. Without even having to justify why, they can download everything on your hard drive and keep it for basically as long as they want. From the article:
- [The Association of Corporate Travel Executives'] informal survey of 2,500 international members found that 90 percent did not know that U.S. customs officials had the right to scrutinize, copy or even seize laptops without having to give a reason.
The broad powers enabling customs and border guards to do this dates back to 1985 and both U.S. and foreign nationals are equally subject to the law.
If you, like me, didn't know about this, consider yourself warned. The implications for corporate meetings with attendees from non-U.S. branches is mind-boggling. And what about international physicians traveling to a national medical society meeting here? Think about the HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations that could occur if they had any patient data in there.
Good thing there are USB flash drives people now can use to transport sensitive information without having to worry about border guards or thieves grabbing their laptops.
Update: Here's more on how to protect yourself, from Jim Louis, one of the MeCo listserv moderators (posted here with his permission, of course):
- Make sure your hard drive is encryped by some software. Â My personal recomendation is www.securstar.comÂ DriveCrypt Plus Pack. Â It encripts your whole laptop before the operating system loads. Â It also can use a USB drive for authentication and you can actually hide a whole operating system inside another operating system. Â So you have two passwords one for the "Public" Operating system and one for your actual files. They also have a more basic program called DriveCrypt. Â It is the most widely used encription program in the world. Â This program allows encription of up to 1344-bit. Â This is military grade. The other reason I like this company is they are based out of Germany. Â Germany promotes strong cryptography.
These programs are both Windows-based, but Macs have FileVault.
Another option is keeping your files on a secure server back in the U.S. and connecting securly to it from anywhere in the world. Â Using a VPN Network or something like Iomega's I-storage to keep your fields.
Also remember Customs can conficate USB Drives as well if they feel that they need to, so when traveling you should make sure that your USB drive has some level of password protection and encryption. Â A more secure option is something with Biometric Security like the "1GB Cruzer profile with built-in biometric security" Â Here you need to use your thumb print to prove who you are.