Laptops, Tablets, Smart phones, iPads, every digital device that you can think of, is subject to complete search when an person is crossing the US border. And according to the courts, and the concerned agencies, (the DHS, CBP TSA, and ICE) policies, the device can be seized for off-site inspection, copied completely, and invaded legally by their agents. To add insult to injury, the policies on how long the data can be kept, or even how it is used, is convoluted and vague. Keeping sensitive or private data encrypted can add to the suspicion when you are passing through a border checkpoint, and if the agent requests the passwords and decryption keys, and you refuse to hand them over, your day could go south…along with the rest of your trip.
First, let’s be clear…this is in no way a guide or advice on how to conduct illegal activities. But is a guide for those traveling that expect to come into contact with a US border agency, or authority, that will help to reduce the amount of stress that can come from this experience. Here’s what you should consider when deciding how to handle your sensitive, or private data, on an international trip…
When confronted at a checkpoint with the possibility of an extensive search, your schedule is quite important. The more stuff that is on your laptop, or other digital device, the longer it could take. And, adding a lot of encrypted or locked files to be inspected or considered by the agent is to also add time to the inspections.
Your Home Citizenship
If you are a US citizen, the chances of an extensive examination of your device reduces considerably. Also, travelers coming into the US from some certain regions can expect to receive a closer examination of all their belongings. If there are encrypted and locked files on the digital devices going through US customs, expect to have the passwords and encryption keys requested.
Where have you traveled during this trip? This is especially important to non-citizen travelers. Also, have you had issues at the border in the past, or have had run-ins with the law in the US in the past? These things increase the odds of a closer look…a lot.
When you are preparing for your trip that will expose you to the US Border inspection, these are the first things you should think about. If you must travel, and don’t want the risk of having private, sensitive, or personal data exposed to an agent who just happens to be nosey, there are ways to protect the data without the risk. Traveling with a laptop that has nothing on it is one method VPNReviewz, UsenetReviewz, and many other privacy advocates recommend. I’ll tell you how to do this in a variety of ways in my next article, US Border Quick Checkpoint Guide Part 2 – Protecting Your Data.