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Flying to the US on business? Leave your laptop at home

Business travellers visiting America are being warned not to travel with sensitive information – because US security staff can copy it and hang on to it indefinitely.

“Right now, the U.S. customs department has the right to look at the data on your computer and download that data if they want to,” Gurley said. “The Ninth Circuit held that it is within the purview of the U.S. government to look at or download anything” on laptops and other electronic devices at the border, she said.

A recent court ruling says that laptops are just like any other luggage, which means security have the right to search their contents.

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) has issued a warning to its members worldwide – and to all business travellers – to limit proprietary information on laptop computers when crossing U.S. borders, and to eliminate any personal data, including photographs, finances and email that you do not want examined by Border Protection authorities. The warning follows a decision by a federal appeals court on 21 April 2008 giving customs officials the unfettered authority to examine, copy, and seize travellers’ laptops – without reasonable suspicion.

The ACTE isn’t telling its members to hide data; it’s suggesting that they should take steps to avoid sensitive corporate information from getting into the wrong hands, or from being deleted by some fat-fingered fool. The group also recommends:

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

I reckon journalists travelling to the US might want to pay attention to that one.