Joe Sharkey wrote an interesting article in the New York Times exploring the practice of computers being confiscated and searched at points of entry to the United States. It doesn’t seem to be particularly common or widespread, judging by a small number of accounts and that it’s not a well-known practice.
Last week, an informal survey by the [Association of Corporate Travel Executives], which has about 2,500 members worldwide, indicated that almost 90 percent of its members were not aware that customs officials have the authority to scrutinize the contents of travelers’ laptops and even confiscate laptops for a period of time, without giving a reason.
However you feel about the ethical and political ramifications of such seizures, that fact that it can happen to anyone who’s randomly selected means some caution should be merited when flying with sensitive data, be it personal or professional.
Obviously, backing up your laptop before leaving on a trip is always a good idea anyway, and it would mean that at least you can get back to work even if your machine is being held. While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to delete any data that you don’t want searched. Netscape Anchor Fabienne suggested a number of techniques to encrypt data on your hard drive to make sure that it stays private, including GnuPG, if you simply have to travel with sensitive documents.