A growing number of laptop seizures by U.S. Customs from U.S. citizens entering the U.S., predominantly at airports, has concerned enough companies that they are now requiring employees to wipe their hard drives before traveling abroad. At least two multinationals, one American, one Dutch, have told employees not to carry confidential information on laptops when they travel overseas, according to the Washington Post. The fact that corporations are instituting policies to protect themselves should signal how abusive this practice has become. It what could amount to a case of illegal search and seizure, Customs agents are ordering employees of U.S. companies, be they U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, predominantly of Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds, to surrender cell phones, BlackBerry devices, iPods and laptop computers when re-entering the country. Customs agents will then copy phonebooks and calling information from phones, and browser and email data from the laptops. The Post reports that border agents have demanded users provide passwords to open hard drives Ã¢â?¬â?? the information of which is often confidential. (What the Post does not report is that, should the laptop contain confidential financial information about the company, the password disclosure itself could be a felony under Sarbanes-Oxley Act, so the hapless employee is stuck between being arrested for not cooperating with Customs agents or opening himself and his entire company’s executive management to jail time).
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.