Laptop ComputerDeparting a bit from music education for a moment I wanted to share some information I received today regarding international travel and problems people are having bringing technology across the border.  Specifically having to do with laptops, the US customs service is apparently taking the position that a laptop is the same thing as luggage and should be open to being searched (giving them your passwords, etc).  For any teacher getting ready to take an international band or choir trip (or a personal one) you may want to read on to save yourself a whole lot of headaches and humiliation.


 {mosgoogle right}Apparently more than a handful of individuals have been stopped at the border as they reenter the country and have been required to submit to having their laptop searched for various illegalities.  These and other incredible requests have been commented on by major national publications including the Washington Post.  However today I ran across an article written by Robert X Cringely of that made me really stop and take notice.  He writes:

U.S. customs sees your laptop as no different than your suitcase, only instead of pawing through your socks and boxers, it gets to rifle through your e-mail, documents, photographs, and Web surfing histories. You say your laptop holds confidential business information, sensitive medical data, or the secret sauce that will make your company billions? Tough luck. It's all just socks and underwear to the Feds.

This means that if you take a laptop with you on your next overseas (or even Trans-Canadian) adventure with your school group or ensemble you might be stopped at the border. 

Here are some suggestions for avoiding such humiliating and time consuming searches:

  1. If you don't have to take the laptop with you, DON'T!
  2. If you do take it with you make sure that you remove or have documentation to prove that all of the MP3's and other audio files you have stored on it are LEGALLY OBTAINED!
  3. Remove everything from the laptop that is not absolutely necessary.  Photos of your kids, lesson plans, etc. on the off chance that the whole thing gets confiscated.

As one commentor to the Cringely article pointed out, until you have passed through customs you are not officially in the United States so our laws do not necessarily apply, as a result customs can do almost anything they want to if they feel it is in the best interest of National Security.  When in doubt, just leave it at home!

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