Ninth Circuit Court rules that border cops may search laptops without even reasonable suspicion


The statement from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives regarding the Ninth Circuit decision that border cops may search laptops without even reasonable suspicion:

“ACTE filed an Amicus brief contending that a traveler’s laptop was essentially intellectual property and not the same as luggage nor freight,” Susan Gurley, ACTE Global Executive Director, said. “The court has disagreed and this decision will have significant impact on business travelers who have no idea their data is subject to search and seizure.”

The association also argued there were no published guidelines as to what might trigger a secondary inspection, or the seizure of data or possibly the entire computer. According to Gurley, the expectation of privacy at the border is considerably less than one can expect in their home or office.

“In a time of heightened international security, it will take a brave Congress to rule that parties may not be subject to suspicionless searches,” said Gurley. “The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals missed a golden opportunity to preserve the rights of Americans.” Gurley contends this issue will surface again when a more compelling case winds its way to the Supreme Court, or additional parties seek a legislative remedy to the problem.

A 2008 ACTE survey indicated that 81 percent of responding travel managers were unaware that laptops and other electronic devices that were seized could be held indefinitely. Sixty-five percent of respondents stated that their companies have now instituted a policy restricting the amount of sensitive or proprietary data that could be carried on a laptop. That number is expected to grow in the wake of this ruling.

ACTE’s advice to business travelers states:

1. That you should not carry any confidential, personal information that you do not want examined by third parties on your computer – or other electronic devices. This includes financial data, photographs, and email stored on computers, wireless phones, Blackberries, or iPod-type devices.

2. That you should limit the amount of proprietary business information you carry on your computer, and that it be transmitted before crossing the border so you have access to it in the event your unit is seized.

3. If your laptop also serves as your major home computer, get another one for travel purposes.

4. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives is not advising travelers to hide data from U.S. border authorities, but to take steps to minimize the impact of its loss, or the inability to access it, in the event it is seized.