Your Laptop Can Be Searched Or Seized By US Customs.. Here’s How To Avoid That…
Taking your laptop on a trip has gotten a bit harder if you’re planning to fly through the United States. A recent court decision (warning PDF) involving a man who was searched by US Customs And Border Protection and was found to have child porn on a laptop. As a result, every time you cross the border customs officials have the right to look at anything in your possession, including the content on your laptop, handheld device, cell phone, USB memory stick and digital cameras. They have the right to both view that information and to download or mirror it if they think it’s necessary. Keep in mind that Border agents do not need any evidence or suspicion of illegal activity to examine a laptop or other electronic device. They can basically do whatever they feel like.
So, what do you do? Here’s some tips in terms of dealing with this issue:
- Back up the contents of your computer before you leave home. If you need some advice on doing that, click here.
- Don’t carry anything on these devices that could potentially embarrass you or that you don’t want others to see. Pictures, stories, even bookmarks. These days, it doesn’t matter.
- Keep your personal banking information, photos, correspondence, health and password information at home.
- If the device is a company-owned computer, don’t carry proprietary business information or personnel records on it.
- Tape your business card to the bottom of the laptop.
- Before you approach customs, turn on your laptop, check the battery power reading to be sure that it’s at least half charged. Then instead of turning it off, put it in “suspend” mode (Windows) or “sleep” mode (Mac). Close your laptop, and head to customs. By doing that, you can have them look at it and be on your way quicker.
- Since US Customs And Border Protection has the right to mirror your data and seize your computer, you should cooperate with customs officials if that happens to you. Ask for a receipt and a badge number if your computer is seized or the data was copied. Try and get whatever information you can on the reason why this happened. Be prepared to not get your computer back for a long time, if ever. As for your data, who knows what they’ll do with that.
- Be polite at all times when dealing with US Customs And Border Protection.
- You could just leave your laptop at home entirely. Remote access products such as the MobiKEY can allow you to get access to what you need without carrying your laptop. I wrote about this device previously and use it myself. There’s no data on the device, so there’s nothing for US Customs And Border Protection to search.
The good news is that there is a lawsuit that has been filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus to get the Department Of Homeland Security to disclose its policies on questioning travelers on First Amendment-protected activities, photocopying individuals’ personal papers, and searching laptop computers and other electronic devices. So one can hope that this can become a non-issue shortly. Until then, I suggest that you watch your back.