In today’s society it sometimes feel that privacy does not exist. The government wants to know everything about you…if only they could get into our minds. I mean seriously, it seems that the only thing private is what we keep in our minds. They can access our journals, diaries, and luggage without “reasonable suspicion”.

Now the government wants access to our laptops when we carry them across borders. The question is: Are our laptops an extension of our minds?

A Judge from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California wrote, “Electronic storage devices function as an extension of our own memory.” “They are capable of storing our thoughts, ranging from the most whimsical to the most profound. Therefore, government intrusions into the mind — specifically those that would cause fear or apprehension in a reasonable person — are no less deserving of Fourth Amendment scrutiny than intrusions that are physical in nature.”

California’s decision holds that laptops and USB memory differ from journals, diaries, luggage and even prescription drug bottles which can be searched without cause by border agents because it falls under the “border exception” rule. Border agents are responsible for protecting the safety of the nation and enforcing copyrights and obscenity rules…so do laptops fit into the exception. This will be answered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Imagine when crossing borders that your laptop and all your personal files can be accessed just the same and your clothing and toiletries in your luggage. Customs agents can snoop through personal pictures, Internet logs, and even confidential corporate documents. Is this overly invasive….is it unethical? What kind of problems will it create and how many will it solve?

This can become a big problem for companies since much proprietary information may be stored on traveling laptops…something that company executives should rethink. How will companies handle such issues if laptops are free game at customs borders? What cost will the company incur? Will this hinder business when traveling abroad?

I personally think that proprietary information should not be stored on a traveling laptop, and I’m sure that most company executives would agree, and understand that is the cost of doing business and protecting client’s private information.

Now lets look at the other side. If laptops are not free game will terrorist hide contraband and evidence in them? If this is the case, are we leaving an opening for terrorist to get around customs borders? Would we be putting ourselves at risk for future terrorist attacks if the California ruling is upheld?

So, we are faced with an ethical dilemma. Would I rather have all my personal information on my laptop away from the eyes of border agents or would I feel safer knowing that a terrorist will not be able to hide or smuggle illegal items in a laptop or other electronic device into our country?

I love my privacy, but I would feel much safer with the latter of the two. I mean whats on my laptop…some music, tons of papers that I wrote in college, pictures of my family and friends, and really that’s about it. If borders agents really want to read my term papers on Halliburton, Global Warming, Tobacco Legislation, Medical Malpractice, Oil Drilling in Alaska or even Frogs and Their Role in the Ecosystem…I say go for it. Regardless, they will never gain access to my dreams, memories, feelings, and beliefs.


This entry is filed under Ethical Rights, Ethics, Politics & Legislation, Privacy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. Salary cap on June 21, 2007 3:09 pm

    This was a cool article.

  2. 123456 on August 15, 2008 12:31 pm


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