back to article US court waves through border laptop searches

Contrary to what some of you may believe, one cannot live in a laptop, according to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the US. In a recent ruling, a three-judge panel of that court determined that border agents could examine the contents of a laptop without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. As part of that …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    It's called encryption people....

    Frankly, in this day and age, if you are taking anything around on your laptop that is in some way "private" for whatever reason, you should encrypt it. If you can do this with a physical key that you can destroy if the circumstances warrant it, even better.

    For example, use a telephone sim and reader to be the key. Then, you can always break the sim with your teeth if pressed. No key, no decryption.

    This is not rocket science, and the first company that produces a nice little sim/usb dongle combination for joe public, will make a nice profit.

    Use it with "truecrypt", which is multi-OS and free...

    Have fun!

  2. Ben Brandwood
    Paris Hilton

    What about locking yourself out.

    There's a couple of options I can see here:

    1) Create a dummy account, that it auto logs into, you then have to log into your "real" account

    2) VMware, quite a few people at work use VMware to move between laptops, especially when they break. So the clear boot of windows has nothing on. You could truecrypt where you keep the images

    On one of my laptops the client insists on having a usb token in and asks for it at boot time. What would happen if I didn't have the token (left it at the destination last time, or posted it, or whatever)? You can only *get* to the boot screen and password prompt... Is that a quick stint in Gitmo?

    Paris: Coz she has more clue than airport security.

  3. Mr B

    Second Life

    The congressional hearing seemed to point out the existence of a "certain form" of life in a laptop, even the possibility of money laundering and terrorism. Now a court rules "one cannot live in a laptop". The latter kinda contravene the former.

    So what if my avatar did download some unlawful material? Do you need a reality virtually warrant to search the virtual laptop that has been used to write the cache files on the real HDD but in a virtual form.

    /straight jacket with virtual sleeves please.

  4. David Barrett
    Paris Hilton

    Work laptop

    What if its a work laptop, what if you are bound by the official secrets act and have sensitive data on the laptop that the border police would not have the relevant clearance to see?

    Work in the defence industry... your going to prison...

    On the other hand... Just have all of your dodgy stuff in a virtual machine... I doubt that they would have the knoledge to look there... Actually... Just keep it outside the desktop/my docs folders... should be pretty safe!

    Paris because, well, just because.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I wonder how they'd react to data encryption...

    Anything I didn't want people to see, I'd encrypt, strip any file extension, rename it, and either bury it in the system folder with innocuous names or put it in folders like "found001", "found002", that Windows generates trying to recover files from a damaged hard drive.

  6. Dave

    Lost or Stolen

    I've always made a point of not keeping anything important to me on a laptop, in the event that it got lost or stolen - I don't even save passwords, preferring to type them in every time. I guess there's another good reason now. My employers can argue it in court if customs decide to read the company laptop in my possession.

    However, in this case, I wonder if we'd have had the opposite ruling if they hadn't found anything?

    I wonder what would happen if I generated a load of random data and left that in files in hidden directories? I guess they'd get out the rubber gloves, but it would keep the NSA busy for a bit.

  7. Chris G Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    The tea party is over

    I was under the impression that the American War of Independence was fought to rid Americans of an over taxing and overbearing government. Steadily all of the rights fought for and thoughtfully written into the constitution are being eroded away, it may be time to put on the war paint and feathers guys! Of course now you won't be fighting for the freedom of all Americans you will just be terrorists with a free pass to gitmo.

  8. Kurt Guntheroth
    Paris Hilton

    you don't live in a laptop

    I'm a big fan of privacy, but... If it's ok to search papers in a briefcase, it ought to be ok to search a laptop, and for the same reason. Sure, a laptop is getting to equal a fatter and fatter briefcase, but that's not the point. The point is, you are travelling. You aren't at home. You knew you were subject to search. You chose what things to take with you, and what things to leave in a secure place when you left.

    If you chose to take a baggie of dope, that wasn't very clever of you. If you chose to take 10,000 child porn images, that wasn't very smart, and it doesn't matter if you printed them out or put 'em on your laptop. If you took trade secrets or sensitive documents, shame on you for exposing them to high risk of theft or loss, because you were *travelling* with them. They weren't secure. Duh.

    What kind of excuse is, "uh, um, I forgot to take the dope out of my briefcase, so you uh, um, shouldn't be able to bust me when you noticed my hash pipe on the x-ray. Like, bummer man!" Isn't the argument pretty much the same with the kiddie porn images?

    Now, I wonder what the outcome would look like if every file was encrypted, and you said, "Well, duh! It's a laptop. I'm travelling. It might get stolen or lost. Of course everything's encrypted." Reasonable search would not extend to the password, which was *in your mind*. I suppose the NSA could pwn you if it wanted you bad enough, but suspicion of possible stuff is probably not enough unless you're already on a list.

    Of course, you'd be the only computer user anywhere and throughout all time ever to not have been stupid with the contents of their laptop, so maybe this constitutes probable cause. Or export of sensitive encryption technology. Or something for which there is a jail-time penalty if they want you.

    Paris, because she'd try this argument.

  9. Olof P


    ...lots of business travellers flying in elsewhere than LAX/SeaTac.

  10. Elfoad Regfoad
    Thumb Down

    never again

    "So for the time being, if you plan on crossing the US border into the Ninth Circuit, it's probably best to just leave the laptop at home."

    a) Having been fingerprinted and questioned there by some imbecile enforcement joker before, I have sworn that I shall not visit the US ever again. It's a cultureless hellhole without history nor future.

    b) My hard drive is inside encrypted linux, so should I be dragged over there by CIA operatives, they probably STILL wouldn't get in.

  11. Scottie Taylor
    Black Helicopters


    This brings up the question of password protected files and encrypted folders, etc. Can they force you to open those? What if you don't have the password? Are you guilty until proven innocent then? Are they able to legally violate confidentiality agreements and NDAs? Can they hold the laptop hostage while they search and decrypt everything because you have a passworded file that can't be opened on the spot? And more importantly, how pissed off are they going to be when they spend that many resources on trying to decrypt that file full of pictures only to find that they're all pictures of o'rly owls and lolcats?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Truecrypt is your friend

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Potential for exclusion

    Given that the US already has, bizarrely, policies that allow exclusion of people for some pretty spurious grounds, such as HIV infection, it seems to me that perfectly legal information found as a result of travelling with a laptop could result in you being packed off on the next flight home.

    What if, say, they find an email to or from your doctor, or an HIV support organisation?

    Probably best to make sure you don't have those pics from your holiday in Cuba on the laptop either....

  14. Pyros

    Despite that the paedo's getting his tine with Bubba...

    ...there is a way to overturn Ninth Court's descion.

    Who wants to be the air-security man who opens a doctor's lappy and finds sensitive medical information, even when it's encrypted?

    I'm sure there'll be a bruhaha over THAT...

  15. Wayland Sothcott
    Thumb Down

    America is a dump anyway

    The natural side of the country is amazing, the people are nice, dim but nice, but the infrastructure is a total mess. Lack of pavements, too many police, you need a gun.

  16. Dave Bell


    Ninth circuit?

    Wassat? And how fast can Stirling Moss get round it?

    Yes, I do know it's a legal term for a particular set of courts, but we're computer geeks, not lawyers.

  17. Matt

    Well, there is another point that you should know

    They can force you to turn over the password. Same as forcing you to unlock a file cabinet or safe. You aren't incriminating yourself by said actions. At least in the eyes of the law.

    Now, you could go to jail for a misdemeanor (1-2 years) by refusing the key or for a long time for providing the key (assuming you have something to hide for real).

    Personally, I will consider encrypting non-incriminating data just to give them a hard time. Probably with a password like: hax0r. :-) Mostly to annoy them and make a point. Not too much cause I don't want to be fingered EVERY time I fly. Then again, with this new electronic fingering that scans me behind for screeners.... I guess I'll get fingered anyway.

    /Snarl. I only fly these days if I absolutely have too.

  18. Jim


    I believe that passwords are covered under the fifth amendment.. Meaning if your laptop is password protected, you do not need to give up that password.

    But that may just be one of the many many amendments that got thrown out the window with the patriot act.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Remote is the best

    Psuedo Thin client laptops are the best, I have a slipstream/ghost image of the drive with all the apps from Windows to Winamp and just reinstall or more importantly download the image and reinstall if my laptop was taken/stolen, followed by downloading all the extra encrypted user created data from a remote server. Laptops only cost about £400 or less today, only the stupid would treat it as a data store.

    No good for paedophiles because everything is mirrored, backed up and copied but for everyone else in the world, there is no excuse to treat a laptop as a computer, it is a fat client dating a thin model.

    The last time I lost a laptop, or had it fail with dodgy power socket, stolen, WGA failure in South Asia, the procedure is download image to install, burn to DVD DL and wipe the existing setup, connect with SSL to download documents/emails 600MB compressed, then unencrypted mp3s then movies on a fast connection any time it gets wifi available. All through SSH with host authentication so can use any connection no matter the security involved no question of trust.

    Laptops are tools, nothing more, with the privacy implications of being searched, anything private should be remote. Kind of a slightly overweight client that dates a thin model.

  20. Christopher E. Stith

    USB sticks fit in pockets

    If they can search your laptop but not your person, just put your data on your person.

  21. Bob

    Computers are Big

    It takes only 5 minutes to search a brief case. Upon conclusion of the search, agents can be certain that they found everything in the brief case. And you can only store so much in a brief case. None of these features is true with laptops.

    Any serious criminal will use one of a thousand ways to encrypt and/or hide nefarious data. And border agents certainly are not going to have the skills, tools or time to do a serious search of any laptop. It's MUCH easier to think of how to hide data than to find it once it's hidden.

    Looks to me like another invasive but useless ruling.

  22. Samuel Walker


    I wonder if they'd have reached this decision if it wasn't child pornography involved but instead a request for clarification on this issue.

    Somehow I doubt they considered the precedent they would set when doing this.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    They can search my laptop...

    Assuming they don't have anything sophisticated to search through the file system of a randomly selected traveler, as they told him to just turn it on, they can have all the fun they like trying to find (and see) pictures or whatever else using nothing but a Linux shell. And of course if they want me to do all the typing, I can easily do what's suggested in the title tag of this comic...

    Although I really don't agree with such searchings as these, I think the guy deserves it for sheer stupidity. If you're going to be carrying around child pr0n, you might as well have the sense to hide it somewhere well on the file system. But wait, criminals that get caught are stupid...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @Work Laptop

    One would hope your employer would have guidelines on how to deal with border agents and company kit. Same goes for local authorities too.

    With regards to defence companies and their ilk. Not only would border agent not have the clearance they would not have 'Need to know' the info contained. Also need to know is how to solve these problems, if you need to know how then you will, if you don't know then you won't, and won't know that you need to know. It gets tricky when you know you need to know but don't know, then you ask the right people.

    I would hope that few border guards would want to cause an international incident though.

    For personal use something along the lines of whole disk encryption with a 'safe' login is the way forward, or a live CD, or better a VM. It is also worth keeping an eye on whether you have the right not to incriminate ones self by not revealing password/logins stored in your head. Think there's an on going US court case on that one.

    RIPA messed that up for the UK though.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Alternative methods

    Personally I don't bother moving computers, I just carry a couple of drives around and plug them into the computer I got sent previously via courier/freight.

    So no 'please power it up' moments.

    Unfortunately security bods seem to take a lot of interest in the drives when they see them on a scan. Generally they want another scan and/or chemical swab test before I can go through.

    So far no-one has expressed interest in the contents of the drives. Generally I'd tell them to F-off - 'protectively marked content - you aren't allowed to see it' - and if that failed they'd still be stuck as the data is pretty solidly encrypted.

    But if I thought I was going anywhere near the TSA I wouldn't carry any data with me - alternative transfer methods would be used.

    In the future (once capacities increase a little more) I'll probably use microSD cards to move my data - no-one would even realise they were there. Duplicating the rest of the machine/contents between sites obviously costs a little, but no enough for it to be a major concern - and it's not my money anyway!

    I might carry a USB key and/or a hard drive though. Not with any data on it, but rather with a modification to cause nice direct short between power and signal pins. Maybe even a nice step-up converter to help things along.

    Obviously there'd be labels on the drives - 'test equipment - do not use', but I suspect these would be ignored. And the result would be magic smoke leaking out of whatever they were using to scan/copy everything.

    I know this is wrong. But so is searching computers.

  26. G R Goslin


    Why did'nt he burn all the controversial stuff to DVD and post it to himself? Then delete the originals. I had it in mind that no one messes with the US Postal Service. Or am I out of date?

  27. Steven Knox

    Really? No-one else immediately though...

    I can think of a few laptops I'd like to live in...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    The guy will probably not be a "paedo"...

    probably just a bored, living-away-from-gf/wife consultant or businessman with too much time on his hands in hotels while travelling. Probably used a newsgroup program to download a few hundred images to entertain himself with, and didn't figure or care that any of them might be underage. Even if you avoid the explicit newsgroups that are for teens/young females/lolitas etc., you still have a bunch of pervs that post that stuff in every binary .erotic newsgroup and frequently label it as something else. If your news client simply downloads them in bulk, and you haven't seen them to delete them, OOOPS, you are suddenly a paedo and headed to a life of hell.

    A real peado would know to hide/encrypt/email said images. This guy acted like he had nothing to hide, and probably didn't think he did. Was probably downloading from .erotic.brunettes and erotic.blondes. I'd like to know what proportion of the images are said to to be paedo, compared to how many in total in those directories.

    I used to use newsgroup clients on my laptop when away for work 5 days a week, actually helped me stay faithful to my gf when gone (she'd rather I do that than sit in a Marriott bar and potentially meet a real woman to be tempted by). I ALWAYS set up global filters in the client for "lolita OR teen OR pubecent OR young OR incest OR..." - you get the idea. That excludes the obvious crap, and at least gives some line of defense should anyone find something they should not. At least you can show that you were not obviously looking for it, and actively trying to avoid it. And of course, make sure you avoid the obvious paedo newsgroups and websites...

    Posting anon because you really can't be sure WHAT can exclude you from a job these days, and with Paris because I remember when I downloaded her own video from the newsgroups...boring as hell really girl, try to look more interested or less drugged next time...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Work laptop, encryption, and stuff

    Usually if it's sensitive material there are declarations and customs forms companies can use to avoid hassle by customs officers. More so if it's a defence (i.e. government) company.

    Official secrets act would apply to the individual though. You would be required under the act not to divulge any information. Maybe this goes as far as ensuring the data is encrypted, and certainly you would not give away passwords (although another country may not recognise the act, being British law, but you would be bound by it so revealing the information would get you in hot water when you get back home). Though the act might require you to not carry the information with you anyway.

    As for encryption, laws differ and some countries either do or are planning to force people to turn over passwords. There you have the option of tools like TrueCrypt which offers plausible deniability (i.e. you can prove there's encryption and you can be made to reveal a password to a container of dummy data, but they can't prove the existence of a sub-container with the real data that has a different password which you don't reveal of course).

    Some countries also make encryption itself illegal. And of course the US and UK both would like to make encryption without a government back-door key illegal (typically by spouting the usual "anti-terrorism" reasons for trampling over every basic legal right in the book).

    Of course you can just deny their request/demand, and get (or rather be shoved) back on the plane to where you came from.

  30. Eddy Ito

    The lad got lucky

    He should be glad he wasn't traveling through Dubai or worse. Clearly the time has come when ports of any shape or type have become free police zones where the best you can hope for is a kiss, but only if there was anal tearing _and_ a handful of sand in the Vaseline.

  31. Argus Tuft
    Black Helicopters

    @ you don't live in a laptop

    I understand they can search your briefcase etc, but how would you react if they brought out the photocopier and made copies of every document in there (medical records, invoices for rubber products, etc) 'for their records'...

    Don't they have the authority to make an image of the entire HDD for analysis?

    Personally I think the entire IT industry is just a front for the NSA.......

  32. Kanhef

    @ Remote is the best

    Improvement: add a self-destruct at boot if a dongle isn't attached. Say, display a Windows startup screen as it overwrites the hard drive, then trigger a head crash and HCF. You (might) even be able to make them pay for your loss. No need to worry about the laptop being stolen with sensitive data on it, either.

    @ "The guy will probably not"

    Not posting anon because

  33. charles platt

    destruction of evidence

    All those who imagine neat ways to wipe the drive before anyone can look at it should remember that destruction of evidence is a serious matter; and the excuse that "Oh I didn't realize it might be used as evidence" will not protect you.

    Refusal to divulge a password used to be legitimized under the Fifth Amendment in the US (according to an interview I did long ago with Scott Charney of the Justice Department) but I have seen recent challenges to that too.

    TrueCrypt allows the user to establish a hidden file containing encrypted materials, but anyone who does this, and then claims that no such file exists, is counting on the software to protect him from being caught in an outright lie. The lie of course could quickly result in charges such as obstruction of justice.

    Really I would imagine that immigration authorities are interested in only two verboten items: Pictures of children having sex, and anything that makes you look like a terrorist. I don't think it should be too difficult for most of us to avoid having such materials on our laptops. Of course the irritation and delays caused by intrusion into our personal electronic documents is still an issue, but no amount of posturing and table-thumping is going to make that go away.

  34. Charles Manning

    Encryption won't work

    There is no real difference between customs asking to see the contents of your bags (searching for illegal stuff and smuggling) and asking to see the contents of your laptop for the same reason. They can also check your ipod for bootlegged tracks (or suspect bootlegged tracks).

    Encryption is no different to padlocking your luggage.

    Refusal to unlock luggage or passwords is likely to get you the Glove Of Love, tazering and being put on the next plane home or to your favourite terrorist vacation accomodation.

  35. amanfromMars Silver badge

    A Private Eye View ....?

    "But the court wasn't buying it, and based its rejection on "the simple fact that one cannot live in a laptop" .....

    I disagree, and thus does that particular comment in that particular court's ruling render its Opinionates discredited and the Law an Ass .... or is it a Banana:-) ...

    And I imagine that the law will need to be Changed with an Amendment to the Fourth Amendment, so that the Total Information Awareness Program can Proceed Full Steam ahead, because for more and more "travellers" is living in a laptop, Reality ..... and an Improvement on Life with ITs Ability/Facility to XXXXtraOrdinarily Render Multiple Lives..... Network InterNetworking Virtually for Real and thus TelePorting them into Binary Supported and ControlLed Environments ....... Alternate Reality Games for Binary Thinkers Virtual Prpgrammers, which is ITself just AI Program for/in/from NIRobotIQs ........ Virtual Machinery @ ITs Work Rest and Play.

  36. Andraž Levstik

    @Alternative methods

    Don't forget a hidden dip switch in case they plug it into your own system to cut the usb power... and always have it set that way...

  37. Nick L

    @G R Goslin

    >Why did'nt he burn all the controversial stuff to DVD and post it to himself?

    It would probably have gone missing in the post and then turned up at the Inland Revenue ...


  38. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    What about phones?

    I keep loads of stuff on my phone. Images, documents, URLs, emails, music, video. Some of it I encrypt to ensure that if a scumbag steals my phone he can't access the data. How long until this ruling applies to phones and PDAs too?

  39. Daniel Wilkie

    @Work Laptop

    Of course, with regards to the defence industry documents protected under the official secrets act shouldn't be on your laptop (or any machine outside the secured network iirc) at any rate... It's called security. So chances are they WOULD be on your personal laptop anyway if recent trends are anything to go by...

  40. Pete Silver badge

    expect to get sent back and barred from entry

    > I wonder how they'd react to data encryption

    Let's remember that it makes absolutely no difference to the immigration person whether you enter the country or get turned around and sent home on the next flight. They have nothing to gain, and possibly a lot to lose, from letting someone in who might be a threat.

    More: they have time. If it takes 20 minutes to scan a laptop (think: how long does your anit-virus take to do a FULL scan), then that's how long they'll keep you - and the person in front of you - and the person in front of them. it makes no differernce to the guys if it takes you 3 hours or 3 days (just so long as you don't die in the queue) to pass through the system, because of all the scans that take place.

    If you encrypt your data - why, it'll just take longer. Plus they will assume you are hiding something and be even more thorough - you can't reason or plead with these people and their laws are completely on their side.

    How they'll deal with a linux laptop will be interesting to see. Personally I think you'd be very lucky indeed if they even gave you the option of completely erasing and reformatting the disk, raher than denying you entry.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @Alternative methods

    gotta build me one of them USB destructo drives

    to leave lying around my desk


  42. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    "You can't live in a computer"

    ... And neither can you smuggle drugs or explosives onto a plane in the data on a hard drive.

    Border controls at airports exist to keep the country safe from illegal trafficking, terrorism and tax evasion. Some of these things are impossible using hard drive data, and those that aren't can be much more effectively achieved using electronic communications.

    This is just a license for border controls to go fishing for extra busts. If US customs claims to exists for the protection of the US from terrorism and smuggling, there is NO WAY they can justify this ruling.

    On the other hand, if one accepts this ruling as legitimate, it is a tacit admission that US Customs exists to spy on the thoughts and actions of US citizens and other foreign nationals entering the country.

    Which one will it be? For the time being, I'm going with the latter, which is why I've stayed away from the US (despite countless opportunities to go) for the last 7 years.

  43. Solomon Grundy


    "but suspicion of possible stuff is probably not enough unless you're already on a list."

    Yes Kurt, that's what makes the U.S. so great. You really don't have any rights once you're on a list...

    Yes Kurt, attitudes like yours are what make lists popular. Thanks!

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You *can* live in a car...

    ...but those aren't covered by 4th Amendment, so what relevance does being able to live somewhere have? You can live in a cardboard box, or (from what's) in a rucksack. Perhaps it's a good legal argument, but it's hardly very logical.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crossing borders

    Crossing borders with a laptop is easy. You:

    i) Make sure there is no software on the laptop that you can't prove you legally own.

    ii) Don't have anything that might be illegal in the country you are entering.

    iii) Assume your laptop will be searched.

    iv) Oh, and if it's a company laptop, consider having nothing on it that might be in breach of company rules.

    Sounds harsh, I know but across the globe, the control freaks are still very much in their ascendancy.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    trade secrets

    i often hear:

    if its a trade secret, your not alloud to travel with it, because the risk...

    Come on, get real:

    In bigger firms, people need to meet the people they want to do buisiness with, espacially with big deals or in themes where your opponent needs to be convinced.One can in most cases not remember all stuff that is nessecary for ones work...(especially not these big excel sheets with all the formula etc)

    encryption ok, but for me its just 1 reason more not to be to eagger to visit the us of a. (allthough i know its more likley today to get a free visit to some modern and surrealistic camping site)

    Paris, because their seme to be more and more around of these (at least brainwise)

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    USA`- U Stay Away

    Only answer I think is to avoid being irradiated in their dodgy new scanners, and having all your personal documents stored on your laptop rifled through by an airport jobsworth ................ U Stay Away.

    Only problem is UK has no civil rights either.

    Don't know which is worse - at least in the USA you can get a gallon of go-juice for what we pay for a litre.

    The 1984/Brazil/V icons are long overdue - please rectify the situation immediately.

    Oh and while you at it can we have burning flag icons for China, USA and UK please?

  48. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    I actually travel with a linux laptop

    and so far no problems.

    They have asked me to boot once or twice, but especially if you have already told them you are going to a conference on computer vision or the like, they are instantly satisfied when they see the geeky stuff appear. I do not encrypt as I do not think anything on my laptop is worth hiding.

    Besides, should the officer reveal ANY personal information about me, obtained in the line of his duties to ANYONE without good reason, he could certainly be sued. Certain medical conditions (yellow fever or other contagious diseases) are good reasons to either refuse entry or quarantine a person (HIV is not really a good reason IMHO). The officers are entitled to such information. Divulging any irrelevant medical condition they might discover to anyone would probably be an offence of some kind.

  49. Svein Skogen
    Black Helicopters

    Logical consequences

    There are two logical consequences of this:

    1) Any traveller from a civilized country must automatically refuse to travel to this uncivilized dump. Period.

    2) Any traveller from this uncivilized dump must automatically turn over their computer for duplication upon arrival. Their own courts has by doing this, waived any claim of "diplomatic pouch" proteciton for their data. Period.


  50. Wize

    @ a few

    @ Work Laptop

    "What if its a work laptop, what if you are bound by the official secrets act and have sensitive data on the laptop that the border police would not have the relevant clearance to see?"

    What if it gets stolen and anyone reads it. Wouldn't be the first time either.

    Secure your data. Either by encryption or not having it on the machine.

    @ Encryption won't work

    "Encryption is no different to padlocking your luggage."

    Didn't a recent court case say that they were not allowed to force you to unlock a file? The right to refuse to answer a question is a bit different to snipping the lock off a case.


    Pack this yourself?

    Border Guard: Excuse me sir I we need you to unlock your laptop so we can search it.

    Travelling Salesman: No problem. I have nothing to hide.

    BG: Sir, there are some folders & files on here that we cannot access.

    TS: I only have a user login. My IT dept lock those parts of it up.

    BG: Sir, if you didn't pack this yourself. We cannot allow you entry unless we can see all the files.

    TS: Pack it myself? What do I look like a linux user? *Gaarrgh! I'm going to lose business because of this. <Rant>#@$£</Rant>

    BG: Have a nice day sir. Now fook aff back home. Only admins can bring data to our country.

  52. John
    Black Helicopters

    First Amendment

    >> Certain medical conditions (yellow fever or other contagious diseases) are good reasons to either refuse entry or quarantine a person (HIV is not really a good reason IMHO).

    So is any information that might indicate illegal or terrorist behaviors. Such things as being a civil rights activist, journalist, or social researcher included.

    But First Admendment rights are not supposed to only extend to what we say, but to activities that prevent us from saying what we want to say. This clearly causes travelers (excersizing their right to gather) to be less likely to freely express themselves. If compared to a breifcase, a breifcase should be able to be searched/scanned for explosive devices, which are an explicit danger of travel, or even other physical contraband (aka drugs). However, upon search, they should not be able to open documents without further cause of suspicion. If there is a book titled "Journal," they should not be able to open it for further examination, but "Al-kida Ji-had Bomb Plot" could be opened. Applied to a laptop, the data on the computer could not contain any danger to other travelers, so should not be searchable. Turning the computer on as an expiendient method to determine it is, in fact, a computer is as far as it should go.

    Quite frankly, there is no reason why a traveler should be any more afraid to carry questionable pictures in their laptop or in a bound folder in a breifcase, than a journalist carry pictures exposing governmental wrong-doing. Unfortunatly, the first will land you in jail, the other a free vacation to the tropics for some water boarding.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @ charles platt

    You stated that TSA are only interested in photos of children having sex. If only that were true.

    The current legal definition of paedophelia in the US includes just naked pictures of women THAT APPEAR to be under the age of consent. They don't have to be having sex, just in a "sexual" pose. It doesn't matter if they are 21 years old - if they happen to LOOK like a 14 year old (i.e., flat chested and wearing their hair in pigtails and a plaid school skirt) that is enough for the images to be considered illegal. Unless of course, the picture has a chain of proof that the model IS over the age of consent, i.e., it is watermarked from a website that photos models and they keep records of model's ages and photo consent forms. That is at least enough to fight a conviction on...but recent cases have won paedo convictions if the models were trying to look pre-pubecent even if they were not underage.

    Now if the images are not watermarked by the photog, or no records exist, you are at the mercy of the TSA and the courts to decide if they are or are not underage...and both have ample reasons to see them as such, given they have brought charges.

    This is a long way of saying that their is a huge room for interpretation, and you are likely to get burned even if you are not a paedophile, just by having nearly any random porn. People really wanting to "import" paedophilic materiels use websites and email, usually encrypted. They know it's illegal, and they avoid carrying it with them. These searches are not catching them, they are catching John Q Businessman with some porn he downloaded from the internet to keep himself company when travelling.

    And that strikes me as a blatant loss of liberty, not an improvement in national security...

  54. Anonymous Coward


    What if you buy a external hdd enclosure, put your hdd in there, put it back in it's origional box, and package it up like it came from the factory and overnight it via FedEx/DHL/UPS or some third party shipping company that isn't government owned with a fake returen address? of course the data on the hdd would all be encrypted too.

    then you wouldn't have to worry about giving away and data or passwords.

    only problem would come in would be booting up to a disk error, I wonder if you could explain away that there was no hdd in it or if they would just think it's a bomb?

    at the least you could throw in a 20gig laptop drive and install dos 5 via usb floppy so it boots up to a semi familiar c:\

  55. Matt Bradley
    Thumb Down

    @mail AC

    Erm... Slightly long winded approach, perhaps: If you want to "take" large amounts of computer data into another country, you might better looking at something like Amazon S3:

    Incidentally: Are US Customs going to be able to mine Amazon S3's Servers now too? Their data crosses borders all the time. Surely this is FAR more likely to contain violations of whatever law it is that they think they are enforcing.

    I wonder if the judge in this case has EVER used a computer?

  56. Anonymous Coward

    silly really

    this discussion is actually a bit silly, since you can transfer any data over the internet. there is thus no point in searching personal electronic devices, apart from discovering hidden errorthink, which is forbidden according to anto-terror and anti-paederrast legislation.. lunatics!

    of course they have decided they force you to give them your key, or render you to egypt/guantanamo, or bomb and genocide the arabs or whatever they like really.. this will NOT happen to you in europe-

    do not travel to yankdom, it's WRONG!

  57. James Butler
    Thumb Up

    Here's what you do ...

    From Rick Rhino at another website ... a great idea for those of you considering trying to test whether encrypted files would cause a problem at the border:

    "Take a family photo (or more likely multiple photographs) with a digital camera, and take their encrypted data... then take each bit of that encrypted data, and add 1 or zero to the red channel of that pixel, corresponding to the bit from the encrypted file.

    The photographs with the encrypted data will be indistinguishable from a normal photograph, as that one bit is below the noise level of digital cameras.

    You copy these photographs to your laptop and travel to the U.S.. Meanwhile, your contact in the U.S. has a version of these photographs without the encrypted file superimposed. Diff the files, and you have that encrypted file again.

    You can do it with any sort of file (sound, images, etc.). Do it with a music file in your iPod, which is unlikely ever to be searched, and even if it is, they have only discovered a perfectly normal audio file."

    Thanks, Rick!

  58. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    @John: First Amendment, @James Butler

    @John: My only comments concern the use of Linux (which caused no comment so far), and the medical records. I quite agree with you that there are many cases of "thought police" behaviour which are totally unacceptable. Good web-site:

    @ James Butler: That procedure is called steganography, and has been around a while. You had better first encrypt or compress the file before hiding it to increase the entropy of the hidden code. Otherwise there are methods to find unusual correlations in the low order bits, and detect the hidden cypher. It also only works on the way you describe on uncompressed images or lossless compression schemes (e.g. LZW), otherwise you have to modify the compressed data, which means modifying the more visible components of the image. Doable, but not trivial.

  59. Kevin Fields

    Simple idea: dummy Windows account

    Have the PC automatically boot with Windows, and leave some ordinary junk in the default account. Install an encrypted Linux partition, boot from Linux with a USB key or CD. If all they want to do is sniff around the laptop, all they're going to see is the useless Windows install, and they'll be satisfied.

  60. GerardFarrell

    lots of ways...

    ... there are to hide things. Stoopd americanos.

    "uhh, yeah, my cable broke while i was away, yeah sure, search the laptop."

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