Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bringing laptops across the border

As a young traveler I had mild run-ins with the occasional border official. That's when I was told that they have extraordinary legal authority - judge, jury and executioner basically. Understanding that helped my patience, and gray hair eliminated most of the hassles.

This is something to remember if you're a young man traveling with a laptop:
Crossing the line at the border | Good Morning Silicon Valley

...Without explanation, we can seize your laptop or any device capable of storing information (including cell phones, thumb drives, video tapes, and old-fashioned analog paper). We can keep it as long as we want. We can look through the contents, and we can share them with other agencies or private entities. And we can do all this whenever and to whomever we want...
This is Bush appointee policy, so if you really don't like it you might consider the voting implications. The obvious recommendations are:
  1. Don't carry any sensitive data or apps across the border
  2. If you want a seized laptop back quickly don't encrypt anything. If you must encrypt, then be ready to provide keys.
  3. Have a current backup - you may never see your data again.
  4. Be very polite to border officials. They have their share of dull, troubled, and resentful people [1], but they're all very good at detecting sarcasm.
  5. Don't carry or wear anything that insults any GOP officials or christian deities.
[1] There's a legislated and institutional preference for veterans in the customs service. Since untroubled veterans have a broad choice of employment, there's a bias for troubled veterans to end up in customs (and the post office too).

Update 8/5/2008: Schneier has an essay on how to carry a laptop across the border. In a later article however, he simplifies his advice, and recommends storing sensitive data in an encyrpted file on a secure server back home. The data can then be retrieved from the server after crossing the border. Don't bother carrying the data with you.

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