Business Travelers Face Scrutiny of Cell Phone, Laptop Data

International travelers have had to provide U.S. Customs agents with their passwords and the data on their cell phones and laptops in the name of border security. Two civil liberties groups are filing suit to force the government to disclose its policies.The list of travelers whose data has been searched includes a tech engineer who was asked to type his password into a company computer and watched as a federal officer copied down the Web sites he had visited; a marketing executive with a global travel management firm who had an agent copy down the login information and password for her company computer; and a Cisco Systems engineer who's had his cellphone and laptop searched three times in the past year, including once when the agent looked at every phone number and text message on the phone and removed its SIM card. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) reports receiving complaints from several members whose laptops have been held for days and their contents copied.

The government has argued in a pending court case--unrelated to the Customs stops--that it regards a laptop the same as a suitcase. "It should not matter...whether documents and pictures are kept in 'hard copy' form in an executive's briefcase or stored digitally in a computer," the government claims.

According to the ACTE, some corporations have told their executives not to carry confidential business material on laptops on overseas trips. A Canadian law firm sends its lawyers to the United States with laptops free of data--the lawyers then access the information they need over the Internet. And that Cisco engineer now wipes his phone clean before he travels so that his friends and colleagues don't end up on a government list.

On Thursday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus plan to file a lawsuit to force the government to disclose its policies on searching and copying the contents of electronic devices. This follows on a Freedom of Information request filed last year by the ACTE asking what happens to the data so seized.The Washington Post

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