Wednesday, December 21, 2011

U.S. Border Data Searches

Quite some time ago I posted about U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents examining laptops and cell phones of people entering the United States. U.S. citizen or not, if you fit a profile or raise suspicions, your laptop, cell phone or other electronic device may be searched, its contents copied, or even be held for an indefinite period of time. Usually the Constitution prevents these kinds of things from happening without a warrant or probable cause. But in this post-9/11 world, the federal government says Constitutional privacy protections don't apply at the U.S. border.

You've probably heard the quote, "if you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to hide." To me, this rather trite statement really doesn't hold up to even a small amount of critical thinking. Financial and health records, personal messages, sensitive organization files, and family photos are all examples of digital data that have nothing to do with wrongdoing and everything to do with keeping private.

If the idea of someone going through your laptop bothers you, the folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) just released a handy guide called Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices. This free publication helps you assess concerns and risks and offers straight forward guidance on a rather controversial subject. Anyone traveling to and from the United States, regardless of citizenship, should consider reading it here.

PS - An informed source tells me that prior to his annual Christmas eve journey, Santa Claus will be following EFF recommendations to ensure the naughty and nice list on his laptop stays confidential when he clears customs. Happy holidays...


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