The Department of Homeland Security wants you to know that they have weighed and considered your privacy and individual liberties when they decided to implement a policy that allows border agents to seize your electronic devices like laptops, flash drives and MP3 players at border crossings and return them to you … within 30 days.
“Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in a statement. “The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders.”
Homeland security says that only a very minuscule percentage of people crossing the border will be affected (only 46 laptops have been seized in the past 10 months out of more than 221 million people crossing the border) but the implications are serious. Strictly speaking, government agents can seize your electronics, copy all of the files contained therein and store them indefinitely.
But let’s be even more frank. The government is probably not going to take your laptop. Border agents don’t care about your music collection or episodes of “Leverage,” but there are some questions about the effectiveness of this policy. If a terrorist was keeping electronic files, they could store the files in a microSD card that’s smaller than a fingernail. It’s a lot easier to hide a microSD card than it is to hide a laptop.
The ACLU has filed suit, challenging the policy.
One way to ensure your files stay yours is to execute redundancy. If you have files that you need access to wherever you go, you could consider Google Docs or one of the many online file storage sites. Backing up documents at home is, of course, always smart computing practice. Buy a portable hard drive if you don’t already own one.