In short, for the laptop-carrying business traveler entering the U.S. from Germany (or anywhere else for that matter) a CBP search of his or her laptop is a Black Swan -- a highly improbable event but one carrying potentially disastrous consequences. See, Taleb, The Black Swan, Random House (2007).
Please be aware, some of CBP's biggest seizures have come from inspections of "respectable looking" people, such as grandmothers, corporate executives, college professors, etc. Everyone is subject to a CBP inspection when they arrive in the U.S.If even grandmothers are potentially suspect, then German venture capitalists and lawyers must be even more so.
And if this sweeping everyone-is-a-potential-suspect attitude were not enough to constitute a risk to business travelers, the CBP has an explicit policy of conducting random inspections of air passengers as shown in this excerpt from the CBP website:
One of CBP missions (sic) is to ensure that travelers entering the United States comply with U.S. laws. In support of this mission, CBP conducts random compliance examinations (COMPEX).
In addition to the policy of random search, CBP is linked with something called "IBIS", a network of other federal government agencies, and uses information from that network to select travelers for inspection:
CBP, along with law enforcement and regulatory personnel from 20 other Federal agencies or bureaus, use IBIS. Some of these agencies are the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Interpol, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, Secret Service, and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. Information from IBIS is also shared with the Department of State for use by Consular Officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.
IBIS assists the majority of the traveling public with expeditious clearance at ports of entry while allowing the border enforcement agencies to focus their limited resources on potential non-compliant travelers. IBIS provides the law enforcement community with access to computer-based enforcement files of common interest. [emphasis added]
In subsequent posts we will examine three specific cases in which the possibility of a border laptop search exposes the travelers in question, and their clients or employers, to dangerous risks. We will also consider what measures a traveler might take to minimize the impact of a border laptop search if it should occur.