Thursday, February 07, 2008

Laptops at risk at US ports of entry

This keeps resurfacing in media every few months. This time, it's a Washington Post article about US Customs and Border Protection officers confiscating travelers' laptops (for indefinite time - some people didn't get theirs back for more than a year, despite being promised they'll get them in 10 to 15 days), or making copies of data on them, and/or forcing the people in possession of them to reveal their logon passwords. Also, people objecting to the procedures are denied entry to US.

Well, one more reason not to travel to US. At least, not with a laptop. Although, regardless of whether you have a laptop, they'll take all your ten fingers' prints when you enter, and that's also a rather strong cause not to. Over here, they take your fingerprints when you're taken in custody as a crime suspect. So depending on your cultural conditioning, having your fingerprints taken can be quite a humiliating experience. (I had my two thumbprints taken already on my previous US visits, and I detest the practice very much.)

Back to laptops and data.

As you might have seen from a previous weblog entry, I use FileVault on my laptop. Back when I used Windows, I used E4M for a similar purpose (although today I'd probably use TrueCrypt instead). FileVault is a 128 or 256-bit AES encrypted disk image for your home directory on Mac OS X. I even use encryption on my swap files.

I have very good reasons to keep all of this encrypted, reasons of both private and professional nature, that I do not wish to elaborate on further. If I were faced with the choice of handing over that data or being denied entry to US, I'd choose to not enter. Owners of some of the data that I keep on my laptop would certainly agree. (Yes, I keep data that doesn't belong to me but I'm trusted with it. If you work for a company in any significant position, chances are, you keep such data too).

Alternatively, in the near future, I can burn a BluRay disc with the contents of my home folder (encrypted), send it to my temporary US address in mail, and travel with laptop erased (or quickly erasable). Which still doesn't save me from the prospect of having my laptop confiscated at the border just because they can.

I'm lucky, 'cause I can mostly avoid going to USA if I don't want to. Some people on the other hand return home there; they don't have much choice aside from not leaving the country. Ugh.

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