publication date: Mar. 10, 2017

Note to international travelers: U.S. customs can take your laptop and ask for passwords

by Paul Goldberg

As spring meetings get going, many cancer organizations are offering what amounts to packing tips, suggesting that some electronic devices are best left at home.

The challenge: the U.S. Customs and Border Protection could ask you to leave your IT equipment for examination–and provide passwords to make this examination possible.

So, if you happen to have patient information on your laptop, or if you can’t stand to be parted from your data, well…be prepared.

Many institutions are offering updates and advice on this, some suggesting that scientists take only the data and IT equipment they absolutely need.

Here is the text of the March 3 blast email from Alfred Johnson, NIH acting deputy director for management. It is likely a classic of the genre:



We have recently been notified that some NIH travelers have been stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and asked to provide their IT equipment and password information for inspection.

This is a reminder that CBP has always had broad authority to make inspections of items being brought into the country, including electronic devices and associated passwords needed to sufficiently conduct their inspection.

From the CBP website: A CBP officer’s border search authority is derived from federal statutes and regulations, including 19 C.F.R. 162.6, which states that, “All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer.” Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all persons entering the United … Continue reading Note to international travelers: U.S. customs can take your laptop and ask for passwords

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