Travel group: Corporate data at risk from laptop searches

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) is warning its members to limit the amount of proprietary business information they carry on laptops and other electronic devices because of fears that government agents can seize that data at US border crossings.

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According to Gurley, the biggest concern is the lack of information or policy guidance about such searches. Currently, companies don't know exactly what to do about data that might be accessed and downloaded during a border search.

"There may be some legitimate reasons for wanting to look at the data" on a traveller's electronic device, Gurley said. "But what are the parameters for such searches? Once they have the information, what do they do with it? What are the policies for retention and for data destruction? This shouldn't be such a hidden secret."

The ACTE filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last July for information about the government's policies on searching laptops and other electronic devices at US borders. Though the DHS responded to that request, the document it provided was too heavily redacted to be of much use.

In February, a lawsuit was filed in US District Court in San Francisco by the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). In the legal filing (download PDF), the two groups asked the court to order the DHS' Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division to release records about its policies and procedures on the "questioning, search and inspection" of travellers entering or returning to the U.S. at various ports of entry.

On Thursday, both organisations and nearly 30 other civil rights and individual privacy rights advocates are submitting a letter to lawmakers asking for a Congressional oversight hearing on the issue. The letters are being sent to the House and Senate Judiciary committees and to the House and Senate Homeland Security committees, said Marcia Hoffmann, staff attorney for the EFF.

"I think that (Appeals Court) decision has focused this issue for us," Hoffman said. "The courts certainly are not stepping in to act as check to abusive searches. On top of that, it has been difficult getting information from the DHS on such searches.

"We hope members of Congress will look into this and force the DHS to disclose information on what it's practices. Ideally, it would be wonderful if Congress would pass legislation to put some safeguards for travellers," she said.

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