US Customs Helps Itself To Your Electronics And Private Data

The Washington Post has an interesting article about a coming lawsuit against the TSA US Customs and Border Protection for possible invasion of privacy. Apparently, U.S. Customs has been known to require travelers to turn on their laptops so their data can be inspected.

A few months earlier in the same 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.

Maria Udy, a marketing executive with a global travel management firm in Bethesda, said her company laptop was seized by a federal agent as she was flying from Dulles International Airport to London in December 2006. Udy, a British citizen, said the agent told her he had “a security concern” with her. “I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,” she said.

“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. With ACTE’s help, she pressed for relief. More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation.

The Post says that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus plan to file a lawsuit to force the government to disclose its policy on searching and confiscating electronics. A U.S. Customs spokesperson said that they don’t engage in racial profiling, but that a laptop may be seized if it “contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. “

Clarity Sought on Electronics Searches [Washington Post] (Thanks, AK!)

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