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Windows 7 is quickly becoming the bane of my existence. I travel quite frequently for business. As such I figured I would install Skype in order to keep in touch with my family at home and to provide myself with the ability to do video calls with them (it’s nice to be able to see one’s family and not just hear them). It took me a while to get my Lifecam NX-6000 (which is, allegedly, compatible with Windows 7 according to Microsoft’s gospel) installed and working both with the Lifecam software and with Skype. However, for reasons I CANNOT fathom, whenever I plug the webcam into a different USB port (and my laptop has 4 of them) Windows 7 wants to reinstall the driver. Well…today, it tried to reinstall the driver (I couldn’t remember which port I last plugged the webcam into) and failed – repeatedly. This for a product that is considered COMPATIBLE with Windows 7 (the Lifecam NX-6000 is only 2 years old at most!).

So, now, I cannot use the webcam and Skype crashes when I try to do a video test. This is utter BS on the part of Microsoft. I have tried looking up the help for this problem only to get some ridiculous crap about a) making sure that automatic updating is turned on (HELLO! This is a corporate system – they are only pushing patches that they approve!) or b) manually updating the drivers (tried that…no luck) or c) installing the software for the device from the manufacturer (uh…Microsoft…YOU ARE THE MANUFACTURERS OF THE FRIGGIN DEVICE AND THE OPERATING SYSTEM!!!!!). I’ve even done the usual uninstalling and reinstalling of the driver (Several times in fact – all to no avail). I’ve even done the sane thing of rebooting Windows. What I can’t understand is that Windows won’t provide for me any detailed information as to WHY the driver is failing (the only thing I can surmise is that the driver being used for the 1TB USB drive I got yesterday is the culprit…however, I’m not sure which one it is). This is beyond stupid and represents a truly, phenomenally crappy operating system. I’m starting to think that I will be looking to get a second laptop to travel with just so that I can stay in touch with my family with hardware that actually WORKS!)…perhaps a MacBook Pro…if only I can swallow the fact that I will be selling my soul to “The Steve”!

Yesterday I was supposed to fly from Washington, D.C. to Spokane, WA, our corporate headquarters for meetings this week.  My original itinerary had me on a 5PM flight from Baltimore (BWI) to Salt Lake City (SLC) on Delta flight 1347.  En-route, there was to be a plane change in Detroit (DTW) from the DC-9 aircraft of the BWI – DTW leg to a 737 aircraft for the DTW – SLC leg (but the flight number would remain the same however and, as far as Delta was concerned this was one and the same flight – only one “leg”).  The aircraft at Detroit was scheduled to leave at 7:15PM for Salt Lake City.  The total flight time for the BWI – DTW leg was, according to the flight attendant, 1 hr. 41 min from gate to gate.

I arrived at the airport at 3PM (2 hours prior to my flight) and got through security without a problem.  I waited at the gate (C13) for the flight to Detroit and then on to Salt Lake City.  At gate C14 there was another flight leaving at 5:50PM going directly to Salt Lake City and then on to San Diego.  As I waited for flight 1437 I began to hear rumors and whisperings that the flight was delayed till 5:30PM.  Not a problem I thought, I think I could still make the continuation flight.  I went to the gate agent at the counter for gate C13 and spoke to her about my concerns on making the continuation flight.  The agent looked at the situation and said – “You may not make the continuation flight – you probably won’t.”  So, calmly I asked for alternatives to which she replied “Looks like you’ll be staying overnight.”  Of course that’s not what I wanted to hear.  What I wanted to hear was “Let me see if something can be done,” not a “sucks to be you” response (although that’s not what she actually said). So, I went to gate C14 to the direct flight to Salt Lake City to speak to the gate agent in hopes of faring a little better. The agent there was helpful and said – “Let me see what I can do.”  She calls Delta customer service on the phone and tries to get me situation on a different flight from Detroit to Minneapolis/St. Paul and then on to Spokane. Unfortunately the person she speaks with over at customer service screws up her efforts and totally undoes it.  Back to square one.  She was kind enough, however, to put me on the standby list for the Salt Lake City flight leaving from her gate – just in case – but she said that I still had 20 minutes before the flight would close before she would know if she had room for me. I hung out and waited – my original flight was later than expected in arriving and boarding was taking a long time. In the end the direct flight checked in full…no joy there – and I was back on my way to Detroit.

The flight from BWI to DTW boarded and the door was closed at 5:35PM. However we were delayed an additional 25 minutes as the ground crew loaded the bags onto the plane. However they could not figure out how to enter the cargo load in the aircraft into the Delta computer system. In the end we pulled away from the gate at 6:10 PM.  Once the aircraft finally left BWI it arrived at DTW (wheels down) at 7:15PM and we arrived at the gate (A15) at 7:25PM. I was able to exit the aircraft fairly quickly and ran to the gate for the continuation flight (A4) arriving there at 7:30PM.  The aircraft was still parked at the gate however the gate was closed and the agents were gone.

I then went to gate A8 to see if I could get on the flight from Detroit to Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) but was told I needed to go to the service desk.  I went to the service desk at gate A18 which was unmanned and scanned my boarding pass for the continuation flight of 1347 to SLC into the automated system.  I was provided a boarding pass for the flight from SLC to Spokane (GEG) (flight 3030) and a $6 meal voucher.  At that point I decided to call our corporate travel service to see if they could help.  I spoke to the rep from corporate travel who called Delta and was put on hold.  I gave the corporate travel rep my cell number and he suggested I go speak to another gate agent about this while he waited on hold (the approximate wait time was 20 – 30 minutes at that point).  I went to the gate agent at gate A18 and told her my situation.  She looked it over and told me that I had made the flight from DTW – SLC (the continuation flight from Detroit to Salt Lake City) since I had checked in to which I explained that I did not since I was standing in front of her.  She then told me to go to the service desk at gate A43.

This is where things spiraled downward. I went to the service desk at gate A43 and waited in line for approximately an hour and a half.  During this time in line I spoke to a co-worker who suggested that I get a seat on the Grand Rapids – Minneapolis/St. Paul flight and then continue on to Spokane from there.  I spoke to corporate travel service rep and told him that plan as well as having a need for a car to drive the two hours in the dark to Grand Rapids, MI.  The rep thought it was a good plan and put a hold on seats on those flights.  He also told me that Delta’s customer service representative on the phone with him said that I had to speak to a customer service representative in-person and that Delta’s customer service refused to do anything for me over the phone since, according to Delta, I checked into the flight 1347 continuation flight and therefore I must be on that plane.

At that point it suddenly occurred to me that if I took the Grand Rapids – Spokane flights then my return flights from Spokane on Thursday, June 17th would get canceled.  The rep from corporate travel said that it was very likely that that would happen.  I reached the agent at the service desk at gate A43 and explained to her my situation.  She looked it over and told me that she could only get me on a flight from DTW to MSP for 8PM the following evening (Monday June 14th) and then on to Spokane.  I told her that was unacceptable as I had meetings to attend in the morning and then explained to her the idea of driving to Grand Rapids and flying from there on to MSP and then Spokane.  The agent indicated that if I did that then my return ticket from Spokane to DC would get canceled and all that she could do would be to “document” in the itinerary notes the situation.  If I wanted to try and save that segment I would have to talk to Delta reservations.  I asked her if I could speak to her supervisor and she told me that I could find the supervisor at gate A45.

I went to gate A45 and spoke to the supervisor about the situation and she concurred that as soon as I missed the SLC to Spokane leg that evening my return flight would be canceled and I would have to rebook it through Delta reservations.  The only catch being that in that time someone else might get my seat and I would not be able to get on those flights.  Delta refused to do anything else at that point – neither provide for a hotel room for the night at DTW or any solution whereby I would not be spending an entire day (on top of the 5 hours I had already spent on Sunday) trying to get to Spokane.   It was at that point that I decided I would rather return to D.C. that evening and sort this whole mess out from there.  I spoke to the corporate travel agent and he booked me on the 9:35PM flight from DTW to Reagan National (DCA).  I ran to the gate (A68) and just made it on the plane. Interestingly, Delta held that plane for a full 30 minutes past it’s departure time in order to accommodate late arriving and last minute passengers – now if only they had done that with the plane from Detroit to Salt Lake City I would not be writing this blog entry! In the end I got home at 1:30 AM – nearly 12 hours after this whole escapade began.

It is ridiculous that Delta made little if any effort to accommodate me in this situation and chose rather to claim that I was on the 1347 continuation flight even though it was clearly evident that I was in the Detroit airport.  At this point I’m going to work with our corporate travel folks to see if we can’t get the entire original ticket refunded since Delta failed to meet their contractual obligation to get me to my destination – not due to any fault of my own but through their own incompetence.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” — Benjamin Franklin

As if the airlines and TSA haven’t made traveling hard enough for the leisure or business traveler it has now become even harder. The Washington Post reported on August 1st in their article, Travelers’ Laptops May Be Detained At Border :

Federal agents may take a traveler’s laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

Also, officials may share copies of the laptop’s contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

(Nakashima, Ellen, Travelers’ Laptops May Be Detained At Border, The Washington Post, August 1, 2008 )

These policies apply to anyone entering the country through any means — not just at airports but at border crossings from Canada, Mexico, or at seaports throughout the United States. The search and seizure can occur without any probably suspicion by the officials and the items taken can be held for an indefinite period of time. Laptops are not the only items that can be taken for examination

international travelers have reported that their laptops, cellphones and other digital devices had been taken — for months, in at least one case — and their contents examined.

The policies state that officers may “detain” laptops “for a reasonable period of time” to “review and analyze information.” This may take place “absent individualized suspicion.”

The policies cover “any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form,” including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover “all papers and other written documentation,” including books, pamphlets and “written materials commonly referred to as ‘pocket trash’ or ‘pocket litter.’ ”

(Nakashima, Ellen, Travelers’ Laptops May Be Detained At Border, The Washington Post, August 1, 2008 )

What this means is that even your personal diary can be taken and examined by DHS at their discretion even though you may have no connection to terrorism, narcotics trafficking, child pornography or any other of a multitude of crimes. What would be interesting is if someone writes in a diary that confesses to a lessor crime – say cheating on their federal taxes – and this is discovered during one of these inspections that apparently would be actionable. According to the policies released by DHS on July 16 2008 the

examinations of documents and electronic devices are a crucial tool for detecting information concerning terrorism, narcotics smuggling, and other national security matters; alien admissibility; contraband including child pornography, monetary instruments, and information in violation of copyright or trademark laws; and evidence of embargo violations or other import or export control laws.

(Department of Homeland Security, “Policy Regarding Border Search of Information“, July 16 2008, as found on the Center for Democracy and Technology‘s website)

As can be seen from this excerpt, any infraction found by DHS can be actionable — whether it is something major like information related to terrorism or something minor like a confession in a diary that you feel like you may have cheated on your taxes or ran a red light. This policy appears to be in violation of the 4th amendment of the U.S. Constitution

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of U.S. v. Arnold that searches of laptops at the border without reasonable suspicion does not constitute a violation of the 4th amendment because the laptop is considered a “closed container” and the U.S. courts have long held that “searches of closed containers and their contents can be conducted at the border without particularized suspicion under the Fourth Amendment” (United States v. Arnold, No. 06-50581,(9th Cir April 21, 2008 )). Previous court rulings have allowed for the searches of briefcases and luggage, purses, wallets, pockets, pictures, films and other graphic materials when these items cross the border.

However, while this may not be a violation of a person’s 4th amendment, the fact remains that such unwarranted searches are a violation of their privacy. Officially, the items gathered by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents during such a search can be held for further inspection for a “reasonable period.” The policies do not specify any specific length of time. The policies do, however, specify that if no reasonable suspicion is found then the information gathered must be destroyed. However, in section B of the policy it states “Nothing in this policy limits the authority of an officer to make written notes or reports or to document impressions relating to a border encounter.”
(Department of Homeland Security, “Policy Regarding Border Search of Information“, July 16 2008, as found on the Center for Democracy and Technology‘s website).

So, if you’re a business person and you are traveling with confidential information, a CBP agent can inspect your documents or your laptop, make notes of what they find, and then return your documents to you. If they make copies of the documents, then, when the search is concluded, those copies must be destroyed but the notes they take do not have to be destroyed. Additionally, CBP can share the information they copy with other agencies and the policy does not require those other agencies to destroy their copies of the information gathered even if CBP determines that there is no probable cause. Now, the information they gather must be handled properly — especially in cases of business confidential information and other similar documents. However, the fact that any border agent can rifle through your personal notes and diary looking for anything leaves the distasteful feeling that the 4th amendment is quickly being chipped away by the government in the name of fighting terrorism. Remember that the next time you travel outside the United States — just leave that manuscript for your novel at home.

Note: See here for how to try and protect your personal information when traveling overseas.

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