Those road warrior lawyers out there who travel internationally have something new to worry about: a Ninth Circuit case that says that customs officers need no reasonable suspicion to search through the contents of any individual’s laptop at the country’s borders, reports ComputerWorld. The blog quotes Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, who wrote the opinion for the panel, as stating,
“We are satisfied that reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border. . . . Searches made at the border . . . are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border.”
This case involved the search of a laptop that found images of child pornography, but the precedent this sets could have much wider implications. Of these are the serious problems for attorneys traveling internationally in the preservation of confidential information (let alone their own private data, such as their firm’s financial records).
What do you do? Do you limit what you put on the machine (or other storage devices you take with you, such as flash drives)? Do you encrypt the data? If the invasiveness of the search includes the reconstructing of deleted files, do you do a data wipe before you leave? Or does an attorney’s data have a special form of protection that might prove to be an exception to this rule and allow for a warrant requirement? Unfortunately, these are the things you need to think about in a post-911 world. Hopefully, this will be sorted out before some attorney’s client information gets seized and released. In the meantime, we need to be circumspect about international travel if we bring client data with us.