Everything from biometric data about the person to network connection information is fair game for collection lately. Sure, there are laws and regulations that stipulate only specific use of this data, no cross checking allowed, etc. In some legislations, at least. And then there is also the copious collecting of data by private companies, web access logs, passwords, preferences and tastes. Sure, this data is not openly accessible and random law enforcement agencies can't see it without a warrant either ... at least in theory.
Nevertheless, as the example of the laptop there at the San Francisco airport showed, no matter what the laws say, you can never protect 100% against misuse, stupidity, or - consider this! - future changes of the law.
The best defense against your data falling into the wrong hands, or being used against you in some way is to not hand over this data in the first place. I frequently travel to the US, but I'm not going to sign up for the CLEAR program. I also think that the addition of biometric information to passports and the creation of central databases about all citizens is a bad idea. Heck, I even avoid using store discount cards: They already know enough about me, they don't need to see a detailed shopping profile of me.
So, anyway, keep your data to yourself, don't hand it over to everyone who asks, individuals, companies or governments alike. You never know how well your data will be guarded, if at all. You never know who eventually will hold your data in their hands and what they are going to do with it.
Update 7/8/2008: Looks like the lost laptop was found again! It was returned to the same office from which it disappeared. So, someone is borrowing the thing, taking it who knows where, doing who knows what with the data on the drive, and then has the means to return it. This, and the fact that the data was on the laptop in the first place, reveals huge gaps in the security procedure or simple stupidity. The article is a very interesting read.
Other related posts:
Skype surveillance: You can't trust closed-source software
Fake popup study: Users are idiots? I don't think so...
Google anonymises IP addresses in their logs? Not really...
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