No More Privacy in Your Laptops & PDA
Be Aware: Your laptop and pda may be searched when you arrive in the United States
A recent decision of the federal court of appeals in California () held that U.S. border officials may search information that is electronically stored on devices such as or telephones. This new standard applies regardless of one’s immigration status and arguably applies equally to U.S. citizens. Although this case arose during a secondary inspection (after the traveler had passed the first immigration inspection and proceeded to leave the airport after picking up his luggage), it is expected that immigration officers will find authority in this new decision to search at their discretion any device that stores information in electronic form.
This new development might be particularly disturbing for those traveling under the visa waiver program who have the burden to show that they are not coming to the United States to work and do not intend to remain more three months. Any minor information found on their laptops or phones could be interpreted by the immigration officers as evidence that they have not met their burden and, therefore, cannot enter the United States. These travelers are customarily and immediately sent back to their point of departure by the next flight. At worst, they could be charged with misrepresentation which could bar them from returning to the United States for many years. Obviously, the search could also lead to criminal charges. (Arnold was ultimately accused of transporting and possessing child pornography).