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People travelling to the USA to face customs inspections of their electronic devices and all of their databases

Utimaco Safeware has advised passengers travelling to the USA to ensure their confidential data is encrypted.

According to reports by the New York Times, more than 1,000 regular business travellers and travel industry representatives met up last week at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) conference in Barcelona to discuss the current tightening of customs controls.

The main issue was the fact that US customs officers can inspect and even confiscate private or business devices of travellers at any time and without citing any specific reason.

Also, no information was provided on what was to happen to the devices. The ACTE, made up of more than 2,500 members, is therefore concerned about what happens to people’s private and business critical information as concrete reasons for suspicion are not required to warrant confiscation.

The ACTE reports on cases in which the laptop of a business traveller and a whole year’s worth of data was confiscated by the authorities.

“A business traveller’s greatest concern used to be that mobile devices, in particular ones containing critical and confidential information, went astray or were stolen. Now these concerns are compounded by the fact that third parties can inspect data during airport checks when travelling to the USA. We don’t know what happens to the data when seized by the US authorities,” says Jackie Groves, Utimaco's MD

“A traveller’s privacy is significantly compromised when arriving in the US. Unless data is encrypted, intellectual property and business secrets are also threatened by such actions.

According to current legislation, such random device checks may be carried out without specifying a reason. The person subject to the search can only hope that his or her data is handled in confidence as there are no fixed guidelines.

Coming hot on the heels of a debate on how passenger information on EU passengers travelling to the USA is handled, this latest concern about the safety of data on arrival in the United States represents yet another worry for European passengers”.

The ACTE is demanding clear guidelines from the government regarding what passengers have to take into consideration when travelling to the US and what inspection processes are to be expected. To this end, the ACTE Traveller Security Advisory Committee has summarised the current status of increased customs controls at US borders in a 35-page white paper.

One recommendation would be that business people travelling to the USA encrypt confidential data on their laptops, PDAs and smartphones so that third parties do not have access to the data and cannot pass it on or use it for other purposes.

One can expect that this somewhat arbitrary US control process will have a large impact on how business travellers handle their sensitive data and how much of it they will take with them when travelling.”

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.