Lawyers should leave their laptops at home when traveling abroad

Posted on September 9th 2009

Jim Calloway points out a troublesome issue for traveling attorneys:

The Department of Homeland Security recently clarified its position to restate that if you cross the border, any of your digital information devices can be seized and searched without the government giving you any reason whatsoever. They did promise to try to return them in a more timely manner. This includes everything from a laptop to an iPod to a USB flash drive. (Wow, wonder how many flash drives are in the pockets of my laptop bag now?)

via Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog: The Digital Lawyer Crosses the Border.

He goes on to provide the following advice to any lawyer who may cross the U.S. border with a laptop potentially full of confidential client files:

That laptop probably can no longer travel across the U.S.border with you. Whether top military grade encryption protects your information from the Department of Homeland security or just presents a professional challenge for them is for you to decide.

via Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog: The Digital Lawyer Crosses the Border.

There has always been an exception to search and seizure law at border crossings. In theory, this is nothing new — attorneys traveling with confidential paper files could also have them searched. But the ease of carrying vast numbers of confidential documents in electronic form raises the bar on this.

And, as Calloway also points out, encryption may or may not be sufficient to protect your data from the U.S. government. It might be better to limit what confidential data you have on your laptop at all — Calloway recommends “temporary” netbooks for the job instead of your regular notebook. I think that's not a bad idea at all.

But I still think you should encrypt any laptop with confidential data too.


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