If you're arriving in the U.S. from overseas, you know your baggage is subject to inspection. If you're sensible and not a crook, you won't be carrying wads of $100 bills, exotic fruit or bags of white powder, because you know they will be confiscated.

But what about your iPod?

It's basically a hard drive and, as some travelers have discovered, the government asserts that it has the right to confiscate a returning traveler's hard drive and inspect its contents.

A federal judge in California ruled last year that, without probable cause or a warrant, such actions violate the Constitution's prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure. To our dismay, the government appealed.

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives believes the decision should stand, and so do we.

The business community is concerned about this case because thousands of business travelers go in and out of the country every day with computers and hand-held devices packed with proprietary information.

The entire travel industry should be equally concerned because the government's attitude toward computer drives could be applied to any media in the possession of a traveler -- books, diaries, digital cameras, cell phones, MP3 players or memory cards.

Judge Dean Pregerson correctly ruled last year that electronic storage devices should be protected from government snoops because they "function as an extension of our own memory."

If we are to be protected from government intrusions into this private realm, the protection has to apply whether we are traveling or sitting in our homes. We surrender some rights when we travel, but not that one.

Yes, the government can open the suitcase and look for loot and fruit, but it ought to end there.

Quality impressions

The airline industry took it on the chin once again last week when the University of Michigan's School of Business released the latest scores for its ongoing American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The rating of our nation's airline industry dropped to an embarrassing 63, lower than the Internal Revenue Service, a curious fact that was not lost on the media.

The best customer satisfaction score turned in by a major U.S. airline was a respectable 76 for Southwest, a carrier that offers no assigned seating, no business class and no in-flight entertainment. None of the legacy carriers broke 70 and five were at or below 61.

Is Southwest that good? Are the others that bad?

We think a lot of this gap has to do with managing expectations. Southwest's passengers know that if they forego some frills, they will get something that Southwest can consistently deliver -- friendly and reliable transportation at a reasonable price.

But we suspect that part of the industry's low rating has to do with the staying power of consumer attitudes.

The predominant image of the legacy airlines in the public mind in recent years has alternated between sick puppies and greedy bunglers, and they're still running an enormous goodwill deficit.

This is not a new problem. With the exception of Continental, not one of the six legacy network carriers has scored above 70 in this annual survey in the last 10 years.

They seem to have formed a lasting impression.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI