Friday, August 01, 2008

DHS can seize, hold laptops at borders; does this indirectly put more consumer data on business laptops at risk?

The Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. has recently disclosed a rule that allows federal agents to seize laptop computers at border checkpoints without suspicion of wrongdoing. The ruling and controversy were reported in a story by Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post, “Travelers’ Laptops May Be Detained at Border: No Suspicion Required Under DHS Policies,” p A1. The Washington Post, Aug. 1, 2008, link here.

One disturbing observation is that laptops could be held for indefinite and unspecified time periods. They could be damaged. Many people store personal information on off-line files on laptops. If the laptops are out of their control, the personal information could become compromised. A few TSA employees have been caught and fired and prosecuted for stealing passenger items.

Some people use their own personal computers and laptops for both personal and business purposes. The physical danger to laptops increases the risk that business or consumer information could be compromised when employees travel (for business-owned laptops, or for personal laptops that, properly or not, have business information).

Another risk is the theft of laptops at security checkpoints because of the physical clumsiness of going through security, which has gotten more complicated with security rules, and with financial pressure from airlines not to check luggage.

Still another risk when traveling could come from compromise of laptops are wireless hot spots with poorly secured or vulnerable services abroad.

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