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US Courts Consider Legality of Laptop Inspection

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the my-porn-is-all-grown-up-anyway dept.

Privacy 595

ceide2000 writes "The government contends that it is perfectly free to inspect every laptop that enters the country, whether or not there is anything suspicious about the computer or its owner. Rummaging through a computer's hard drive, the government says, is no different from looking through a suitcase. One federal appeals court has agreed, and a second seems ready to follow suit." This story follows up on a story about laptop confiscation at the borders from a few months ago.

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next will be... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956016)

next is your banking information, previous employments, medical history and telephone calls made in the past 6 months.

Welcome to the USA.

How I do it... (5, Funny)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956280)

I encode all my dangerous stuff with everyday words and string them into mundane sentances disguised as personal communication.

There, everything you need to construct your own death star is in the line above. Oh, and some extra information is hidden in this line about exhaust ports. Damn, I just realized, my encoding for "exhaust ports" renders as "exhaust ports". Well, back to the drawing board.

But (5, Insightful)

kieran (20691) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956020)

Can they demand you decrypt data or, worse, provide the key?

Re:But (1)

YukonTech (841015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956064)

Thats a very good question.

Re:But (0, Flamebait)

sholden (12227) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956068)

You could try reading the article, you know the one that discusses this very thing...

Re:But (3, Insightful)

BeanThere (28381) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956220)

You could try answering the question instead of giving a snarky response ... the article "discusses" it, yes, but doesn't completely clarify the issue - the bottom line is that the 5th amendment 'probably applies' (I presume only to citizens?), but I'm guessing you're likely to be subjected to a fairly rigorous police-state-like series of events if you try to refuse to give your password. If you're just a tourist and not a citizen, you're probably a lot worse off too, I'm not sure what would happen.

Re:But (5, Informative)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956336)

Not that the Bill of Rights has much sway in cases where "terrorism" or "national security" can be applied, but the 5th amendment applies to "persons" rather than "citizens" (this distinction is made several times in the Constitution), and thus applies equally to anyone under US jurisdiction, whether they are a citizen or not.

So, if we actually followed the Bill of Rights, no one should be compelled to give that information, regardless of where they come from.

No you have a choice. (4, Insightful)

winkydink (650484) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956080)

A. You can decrypt the data
B. You can go back where you came from

Re:No you have a choice. (4, Insightful)

Asic Eng (193332) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956406)

B. You can go back where you came from

What if you came from the US? I know that many Americans are ok with tourists to the US having no privacy rights, but what about US citizens - is it ok that a citizen loses his rights as soon as he encounters US borders? It seems the 4th amendment ought to protect you against "unreasonable searches and seizures". It's certainly reasonable to search a suitcase for illegal drugs, explosives or quantities of goods which exceed the import limits. All of these things are directly border-related. However is it reasonable to search a laptop at the border? Sure a laptop might contain illegal files, but that's always the case. So if it's reasonable to search for these at the border, it should be reasonable to search for these on all computers all of the time.

Re:No you have a choice. (1)

faloi (738831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956438)

You also have a right to invoke your Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination, apparently. At least until the next President does away with those.

Re:No you have a choice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956460)

This begs the question:

Is there now a place for a program that decrypts data in two ways?
i.e. Show's something interesting, but not the real data when given one key and then show your real data when given the other key. Or better yet, present the actual content with a bunch of fluff around it so that it becomes useless to whomever is looking at it. I guess there is already steganography, so I'm sort of answering my own question.
Obviously there are legal ramifications for trying to hide something.

Re:No you have a choice. (4, Informative)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956678)

Is there now a place for a program that decrypts data in two ways?

It's called TrueCrypt [truecrypt.org] and is available for Windows, Linux and to some degree for OS X.

Main Features:

        * Creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk.

        * Encrypts an entire hard disk partition or a storage device such as USB flash drive.

        * Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent.

        * Provides two levels of plausible deniability, in case an adversary forces you to reveal the password:

            1) Hidden volume (steganography - more information may be found here).

            2) No TrueCrypt volume can be identified (volumes cannot be distinguished from random data).

        * Encryption algorithms: AES-256, Serpent, and Twofish. Mode of operation: LRW.

            Further information regarding features of the software may be found in the documentation.

Re:No you have a choice. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956536)

A. You can decrypt the data
B. You can go back where you came from
C. You can avoid totalitarian states in the first place

This is now a war on commerce, international science and visiting family. We have a new iron curtain.

Re:No you have a choice. (1)

init100 (915886) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956650)

Well, such a stance probably won't be popular among business people. If the US wants to continue international trade, asserting the right to look through private/proprietary data might not be such a good idea. Who knows, information gathered from such inspections could just be forwarded to American corporations, something foreign businesses wouldn't be too fond of.

Do this instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956670)

1) Encrypt your data.
2) Use the "Tubes" to transfer your data to a server in America.
3) Datascrub the harddrive and then reinstall the OS.
4) Let them search it at the border.
5) Once you are in, re-download your encrypted data (and delete it from the hosting server).

Alternatively, you can:

1) Set up an SSH server on your box at home, being careful to lock everything else down (and to keep your data encrypted).
2) Carry your datascrubbed laptop across the border.
3) Connect to your foreign computer and download your encrypted data.
4) Send a remote command to shut down your foreign computer.

Simple!

No (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956084)

I don't they can demand that you provide a key, because that is self-incrimination. However, they can certainly try to decrypt the data themselves. I unfortunately think the government can do searches of your computer equipment. However, I do not believe they can confiscate it. They should be required to take an image and return your data.

Re:No (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956174)

I don't they can demand that you provide a key, because that is self-incrimination

The article specifically references the issue of the prosecutors demanding the key.

Re:No (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956622)

The article specifically references the issue of the prosecutors demanding the key.


Correct.

The article also implies that while the defendant was attempting to use his 5th Amendment right against self incrimination to stop having to give the key, they expected the judge to force him to give it since he already gave it willingly to the border patrol agent.

That is the trick. If you have something encrypted, simply refuse to give them the key, or play dumb....

BPAgent: What is this 10GB file on your hard drive with the gibberish name?

You: What file? I don't know what you mean officer.

BPAgent: THIS one! (points at screen)

You: Gosh officer, I have no idea what that is. Oh no! Do you think I have a Virus?

BPAgent: (grumbling) I wouldn't know Sir. Never mind, here is your laptop back, have a nice day.

You: Why thank you officer! (walks away whistling)


While they might be able to arrest you for "Interfering in a Police investigation" You can then successfully plead the 5th, and the prosecution will likely have to drop the case. Being unwilling to do something to incriminate yourself is NOT a crime anywhere in the United States, Nor is not knowing what something on your hard drive is. Heck, if ignorance of the contents of PC hard drives was a crime, 99% of the population would have to be locked up!

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956244)

what is the functional point of this when they can't police data retrieved over the net.

Re:But (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956156)

No, you are perfectly in your rights to refuse to decrypt your data. They'll just confiscate your laptop instead, or you can turn around and go back home.

Frankly, this seems untenable to me. What if you ship your data separately? To me it just seems like an extension of the policy where Border Guards can pretty much do whatever they want. As anybody who has had to do more than tell the guard you're only going over the border for a daytrip can attest, those guys don't care one whit about your privacy or anything like that. They have a job to stop certain things from entering the country and you're just an annoyance they have to deal with to get their job done.

Re:But (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956490)

I think a "laptop" is a "thing" and files are "papers" There are different legal rules. Imagine a Lawyer crossing the boarder with his laptop, does that mean a prosecutor can "search" his laptop for ANY client files simply because he crossed a border? Or what about an accountant.. can we demand the CFO of GE turn over files on his computer to any minimum wage lackey? As long as the "thing" is being searched to prove it's safe and legal, the "papers" should be off limits unless there is a specific warrant.

Re:But (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956500)

Nope, there was a recent case where you can refuse to provide a PGP key based on the fifth amendment, anyone have the link for me?
thx

hmph (0, Redundant)

moogied (1175879) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956052)

I for one welcome our laptopinspecting overlords. May there lap loving appetite be satisfied.

China (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956058)

I see "US" tag. A better tag will be "China".

Luckily (2, Informative)

svelemor (875096) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956074)

... there are effective ways to protect your own privacy http://www.truecrypt.org/ [truecrypt.org]

Suitcase opening... HAH! (4, Insightful)

guitaristx (791223) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956078)

This is not suitcase snooping, this is opening a sealed envelope found within my suitcase and reading the contents even though both the suitcase and envelope test negative on the bomb sniffer.

Re:Suitcase opening... HAH! (1)

BeanThere (28381) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956118)

Yes, I thought that the 'logic' for checking suitcases was to search for physical threats such as bombs. Bits on a hard disk hardly qualify as a threat.

Re:Suitcase opening... HAH! (4, Informative)

sholden (12227) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956292)

Your assumption is wrong. It's to search for items which are illegal to bring into the country. That would some plants and animals (quarantine laws), and also certain bit sequences on a hard drive (child pornography), bits of paper (undeclared currency over a magic value), arbitrary objects (that you didn't pay duty on) and a lot of other things. It's customs doing the searching, they don't actually care about bombs - of course if they found one they'd bring in the people who do care about such things...

Re:Suitcase opening... HAH! (4, Informative)

winkydink (650484) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956130)

Um, upon entering the country, they can open a sealed letter in your possession and read the contents already.

Re:Suitcase opening... HAH! (1)

chgros (690878) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956546)

That sounds suspicious (for instance I doubt they can do it for mail). Care to back up that statement?

No, it's worse than that (4, Interesting)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956454)

No, it's not "opening a sealed envelope". Envelopes can contain toxic chemicals, weapons, etc. Computers only hold information. The difference is that they're now policing thought.

Sounds about right (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956082)

what, you poofters expect you can come into our great country carrying a laptop with up-tight British porn and scandalous articles on the British monarchy including photoshopped pictures of Diana taking it up the arse from Beckham, yet not even do us the courtesy of bringing a toothbrush with you?

good riddance

Re:Sounds about right (1)

Godwin O'Hitler (205945) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956254)

Apart from carrying a toothbrush around what do you excel at?

Terrorist intent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956090)

I think I posted about how having to take my laptop out played that whole how would I bomb the whole airport going unnoticed fantasy in my mind. Them actually going through my files might turn that into real intent. Good I am not going to the USA anytime soon.

By that logic... (1)

RandoX (828285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956108)

Can they inspect every packet that enters (or exits) the US? Does the physical medium have to be in transit?

Re:By that logic... (2, Informative)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956178)

Can they inspect every packet that enters (or exits) the US? Does the physical medium have to be in transit?
Answer: yes [wikipedia.org]

Huh? (0)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956112)

We can't examine every container that comes into our ports or every package that gets flown into this country, but we're trying to examine every laptop that crosses our border? Great use of resources folks.

Besides, if they want to inspect my laptop (I don't actually have one but you get the idea), then I get to inspect their laptop. After all, if they have nothing hide. . .

I said it before in a posting and I'll say it again: I can remember a time when people would brag about being able to drive from state to state without having to show identification or worry about the government listening in on your phone conversations when comparing our country to the former Soviet Union. But now, it appears we've taken mulitple pages from their playbook and are following their example. Looks like at least parts of a totalitarian state have won out over freedom.

If you can search a suitcase... (1, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956124)

You can search a hard drive. Claiming that a hard drive is an extension of your memory is bullshit. If the government can search your suitcase, I see no problem with them searching your hard drive. If you have something you don't want them to find, encrypt it. Hide it. Do something other than leaving it in plain sight of a simple search.

Re:If you can search a suitcase... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956250)

I tend to store my data in binary on magnetic platters, where it is completely unreadable by humans using plain sight in a simple search.

Re:If you can search a suitcase... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956540)

The article states that they can ask you to decrypt the data.

Re:If you can search a suitcase... (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956560)

If you have something you don't want them to find, encrypt it. Hide it. Do something other than leaving it in plain sight of a simple search.
exactly, what self respecting terrorist is going to have their data in plain sight? In this case, you end up searching everyone but the people who would actually be a threat as they know better than to have any of their sensitive data in plain sight.

new laptops too? (2, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956142)

Are they going to check all the new laptops shipped from China too? Theres probably spyware, malware etc on their hard drives Anyway its gpoing to mean long lines at the security checkpoints at airports as federal employees check out business travellers pron colledtions.

Hand over your corporate laptop :) (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956152)

I will hand over mine :) I work for Microsoft (Seriously) let them fight the battle, thats not my job :)

Ha, ha, ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956158)

Contents of my_home_video.avi:

Secret terrorist plans to make all Americans remove their shoes at airports follows. Use your private key to decode. 1010110101001010110101000010101010...

A better analogy... (4, Interesting)

kebes (861706) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956162)

Rummaging through a computer's hard drive, the government says, is no different from looking through a suitcase.
Wouldn't a more apt analogy be "can border security read all the paper documents a person is carrying?" Is it legal for border security to open every binder of notes, and open every letter on your person, including medical records, bank statements, things marked "private" or "confidential" or "top secret"?

I think the answer is: no, that's not allowed. They are allowed to search in order to satisfy themselves that it is a book/document and not something nefarious (bomb, contraband, etc.)... but beyond that they cannot go rummaging through any data you happen to be carrying on your person.

By analogy, I would expect that physically inspecting a laptop (to make sure it's not hiding anything nefarious) is okay, but I can't think of a legitimate reason to start scanning through the data on it.

Re:A better analogy... (4, Interesting)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956372)

curious are they going to search every MP3 player, every Thumb drive, every floppy disc, or cd that enter's the country?

If I wanted to get information beyond the border without It being noticed, a partitioned MP3 player HD hiding an encrypted volume.

The MP3 player plays just fine, but only a physical search by a trained IT person would even notice that something was wrong. especially if I "upgraded" an old 20gb model with a 40 or 80 gb hard drive, and partitioned it in such a way as to leave 20gb for the player, and the rest was hidden from view, unless inserted into another computer.

I just thought of that reading these responses.

Re:A better analogy... (1)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956558)

What about a microSD card? Those things are so tiny you could easily hide 2GB of storage inside a watch, button, or anything with even a little bit of space inside it.

Trying to have security guards like TSA trying to stop "illegal data" from leaving the country is bound to fail.

The only reason to have TSA look at the data on a laptop is to get around the 4th amendment rights.

4th Amendment (4, Insightful)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956164)

I guess if they're going to ignore the 4th Amendment when it comes to suitcases, they might as well ignore it when it comes to laptops. After all, who is to say what it means for "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,"

Re:4th Amendment (1)

mathimus1863 (1120437) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956520)

I don't think the 4th amendment applies to crossing international border crossings.

Re:4th Amendment (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956524)

After all, who is to say what it means for "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,"


The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Unfortunately, the average person isn't too vigilant, so freedoms deteriorate until a few people with a clue get really pissed off and fight to get them returned.

The 4th does not apply to border searches (5, Informative)

sirwired (27582) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956694)

The 4th amendment does not apply to searches at the border, and it never has. Throughout modern history, every country in the world (the U.S. included) has reserved the right to search anything and everything entering the country, save diplomatic pouches.

The 4th amendment only covers "unreasonable" search and seizure. Border searches are considered reasonable, and therefore require no warrant. This was formally codified by the 1st Congress (thank you Findlaw), who could be assumed to know the intentions of the founding fathers. More intrusive operations over and above a cursory search (such as X-Rays, or I supposed computer checks) only require "reasonable suspicion", as opposed to the more strict "probable cause".

The current version of the law states:
19 USC 1581:
(a) Customs officers
Any officer of the customs may at any time go on board of any vessel
or vehicle at any place in the United States or within the customs
waters or, as he may be authorized, within a customs-enforcement area
established under the Anti-Smuggling Act [19 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.], or at
any other authorized place, without as well as within his district, and
examine the manifest and other documents and papers and examine,
inspect, and search the vessel or vehicle and every part thereof and any
person, trunk, package, or cargo on board, and to this end may hail and
stop such vessel or vehicle, and use all necessary force to compel
compliance.

I would think a search of the hard drive falls well within a "package".

SirWired

I'm holding this airplane hostage with excel! (2, Insightful)

pwnies (1034518) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956166)

Except that software doesn't pose a "threat to national security" if it's transfered on an airplane. Sure they may say that "We want to keep hacker software and naughty viruses out!", which is ginger and all, but there's this one new thing, maybe you've heard of it TSA - called the internet. So really I have to ask why do they need to search peoples hard drives? The people could easily just leave their data at home or on a remote server and transfer it to their laptops once they land.

On the subject of encrypted data, here's an interesting question, what if the user doesn't have the key (e.g. a messenger)? Do they have to delete that data? And how do they know it's entirely deleted? Do they run Nuke and Boot on the user's hard drive?

It seems to me this is just a classic case of political "Lets make laws on things that we don't understand and scare us".

Just how stupid do you have to be... (1)

sholden (12227) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956182)

To carry a laptop across the border with child porn on it...

But there's more, how retarded do you have to be to encrypt it and then give the passphrase to decrypt to the customs agent when he asks...

It's tricky (3, Interesting)

hibiki_r (649814) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956210)

A laptop can be used to carry contraband. Pirated software. Nuclear secrets. What makes it different from opening a suitcase?

There's a few things that make it different. First, by opening a suitcase and performing a cursory inspection, an official doesn't read every notebook and letter the traveler is carrying. A customs official that takes a computer for inspection can do all kinds of unreasonable things to it, and there's little that can be done about it. There's also the problem of figuring out what is illegal: Should a traveler prove that every mp3 he is carrying was ripped legally? Should we have to carry the licenses of all commercial software? It'd be crazy.

And finally, there's the fact that anyone smuggling software will just get an internet connection and send it across through the wire.

What are they looking for? (2, Interesting)

Scotman (1126481) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956218)

What is "illegal" on a laptop that comes into the country? I can understand stuff like plans for a bomb or correspondence with a terrorist group. But that has to be an extreme. So what else are they looking for?

Re:What are they looking for? (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956356)

What is "illegal" on a laptop that comes into the country? I can understand stuff like plans for a bomb or correspondence with a terrorist group. But that has to be an extreme. So what else are they looking for?
I dunno, but I bet you'd grab their attention with a desktop wallpaper of "TSA LICKS BALLS",

Or, if you plan well enough ahead of time, a picture of the TSA officers wife.

Or just travel with an old broken laptop and when he asks you to boot it, ask the guy to fix it first. - "but officer, I'm taking it to Best Buy for repair!?"

Re:What are they looking for? (4, Funny)

RingDev (879105) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956514)

Or just travel with an old broken laptop and when he asks you to boot it, ask the guy to fix it first. - "but officer, I'm taking it to Best Buy for repair!?"
I find traveling with sex toys in your carry on is a great way to get searches to end quickly.

-Rick

Re:What are they looking for? (3, Interesting)

Xinef Jyinaer (1044268) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956556)

Better yet, if you need to keep them from snooping around on it, just unhook the mobo from the PSU.

Porn, of course! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956574)

Title 19, 1305:

All persons are prohibited from importing into the United States
from any foreign country [ ..treasonous material, or.. ] any obscene book, pamphlet, paper,
writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing, or other
representation, figure, or image on or of paper or other material, or
any cast, instrument, or other article which is obscene or immoral.

There you go.

Lessons (2, Insightful)

Thansal (999464) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956236)

"There are all sorts of lessons in these cases. One is that the border seems be a privacy-free zone. A second is that encryption programs work. A third is that you should keep your password to yourself. And the most important is that you should leave your laptop at home."

Don't forget the one about not being a pedo, I mean, I know, it isn't that obvious, but still, just in case you didn't catch it, don't be a damn pedo.

Honestly, I am not sure how I feel about boarder inspections. Yes, they are important to some degree (it IS illegal to traffic in certain things). However, they should also have a good REASON to search you.

If we accept them doing random stops and searches (I honestly don't know how I feel about this), or if they have good reason to stop and search you, then I have no problem with them searching your laptop as well. They obviously should not keep records of ANYTHING found in there (unless breaking a specific law), however searching a laptop when you are already searching the person/car for somethign that likely could be found on the laptop? why not?

All in all, I dono. It seems a slippery slope problem, but it also seems relatively reasonable (Again, assuming there is a good reason for the search in the first place)

Eunuchs only (1)

peipas (809350) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956264)

Not a bad job to get to be a screener going through a homesick businessman's girlfriend/wife pics.

New plan for border agents... (4, Funny)

soulsteal (104635) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956272)

Folder on desktop named "Kiddie pics?" Check.

Thousands of JPGs within? Check.

All JPGs are hello.jpg? Checkmate.

Re:New plan for border agents... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956496)

Even better: all JPGs are tubgirl [tubgirl.com] .

Re:New plan for border agents... (1)

SCHecklerX (229973) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956508)

Damn, no mod points today :-)

HALT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956282)

Welcome to nazi amerika.

Have your papers and items ready to be inspected.

Please step ahead to the next checkpoint.

Have a nice day. (but not too nice or we'll suspect you of something)

encrypt and hide (1)

blueskies (525815) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956288)

They only know to ask for your decryption key if they can find data they think is encrypted.

Then you can have things like hardware keys and password keys. And you could have a rsa key on the internet, so you need all three to decrypt.

Re:encrypt and hide (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956566)

Or even better. Just encrypt and put your files on the internet. This is just getting outrageous, if its in digital format and they want to smuggle it, why not just upload it to the internet and download it when you get in the states.

Bypass howto (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956304)

Just install Linux/*BSD/etc, encrypt your HDD with PGP and create John Doe user acount with it's own home folder... *They boot up your laptop* "What's your username and password, sir?" *Give login name and password for John Doe user* "Ok... you're free to go" Eeeeeeaaaaassssssssyyyyyyyyyyyyy

Re:Bypass howto (1)

coats (1068) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956584)

with it's own home folder
in its own partition, and leave the real and encrypted home partition unmounted.

Easy to change /etc/fstab after you get there...

--fwiw

Stop, colleberate and listen! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956308)

Hammer time! [thepounder.com]

Do They Inspect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956314)

Senators, government officials and so forth upon their return from overseas? How about the throngs of staff members that accompany them? How about their family members? Would they subject these people to the embarrassment of having their computers searched and if anything is found, being arrested on site no ifs, ands or buts. Probably not because they are our trusted government officials who could do no wrong overseas. ;)

And the purpose is..? (1)

eebra82 (907996) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956316)

If the purpose is to prevent illegal/dangerous files from getting into the country, who exactly do they think they can catch? Have they heard of the internet and how easy it is to transfer files from one user to another - anonymously?

Re:And the purpose is..? (1)

Asic Eng (193332) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956662)

Well in fairness: if the customs agent is asking: "do you have child pornography on your laptop" and you say "maybe", then they have a reason to search. (Both of these condition apply in the case discussed in the article.) So in this particular case, I can't find fault with their actions. However in general I think there should have to be a reasonable suspicion before they search a laptop.

Let the Godwins fly... (1)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956328)

Taking all bets on the number of Godwins folks...

I guess they don't like tourism revenue (2, Insightful)

Tim C (15259) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956334)

After all, they keep giving us foreigners more and more reasons to avoid the US and spend our money elsewhere.

Dumb criminals... (1)

faloi (738831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956352)

The bottom line from the story seems to be that the government is within their rights to giver a cursory examination to laptops and other electronic media. If you're dumb enough to put illegal files in a location that's quick and easy to get to, you're going to get busted. If you run an OS that the agents are familiar with, you're more likely to get busted. I'd bet your average customs/TSA agent that was faced with a Linux laptop would double click on a few things on the desktop and send you on your way.

An interesting question that comes out of all this regards passwords and encryption keys. If your right to not disclose encryption keys is upheld, I would think you'd have a right to not disclose a password to log-in to your box under the same Fifth Amendment arguments.

an even worse scenero (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956368)

what if they had a device installed that emitted e.m.p or some other electromagnetic destruction of data from disks and usb memsticks, and people would only find out later that all their harddrives & USB memory sticks wiped clean...

not sure if this would work on CD/DVD roms though...

Four words: (2, Funny)

Dan East (318230) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956370)

thumb drive
encryption
orifice

Time for some external drives... (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956382)

Oh sure, you can go through my laptop. And here're my other drives. 5TB of random characters. Enjoy!

Not about rights, but rather usefulness (4, Funny)

Random BedHead Ed (602081) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956408)

I can see the court's argument, and I suppose it really isn't any different, since you're crossing a border. But what's the point? I've heard there's actually a big network that extends internationally outside the United States (an "inter-net" if you will) that makes data transfers into the US without physical hard disks fairly easy. If this is truly the case, wouldn't anything "contraband" be sent via that? (I mean, assuming it's not too difficult to get an account on this network.)

Just create a dummy account? (5, Interesting)

SCHecklerX (229973) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956420)

I don't think you'd need to encrypt anything. Your laptop won't be on when they begin their inspection, right? So add another account that you fully cooperate with them with that has access to nothing, and maybe has some default pictures and stuff for them to browse around with. Configure login script to fix whatever they screw up on that account on each login. Log into *that* one for them to do their probing. They won't have any way of knowing it isn't your main account. Heck, make that a nice self-healing account that friends can use. Bonus!

If you assume somewhat more sophisticated inspectors, you may want to put what can be construed as nefarious software (nmap, tcpdump, nessus, kismet, etc) in a more secure than normal place.

Now, if you expect the thing to be confiscated, that is a different story.

Try this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956426)

In stories like this, replace every occurence of USA or America with Iran and see if you still agree.

one workaround (1)

rritterson (588983) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956432)

If you are concerned about your privacy, then only keep the base OS on the installed hard drive, and carry your personal documents and information on a flash drive, preferrably concealed as a pen, thermos bottom, etc (they've become quite common and cheap these days). Another option is using something like an iPod, which most people would assume can only play music, and can't be used as a disk.

Of course, this is just security by obscurity, because I'm sure customs could easily force you to turn over your flash drive too, but it's something.

What government would do if they could (2, Insightful)

alextheseal (653421) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956440)

This is a perfect example of the government tipping their hand. Every time they say, trust us with your privacy, think back to what they do when they have no constrains.

Johnny Mnemonic (3, Funny)

mattr (78516) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956444)

Finally a plausible reason why JM is conceivable.

Company Computers and NDA's?? (3, Interesting)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956456)

Can they ask to see the contents of a company laptop? If that information is proprietary you have every right to deny them access as an employee or face legal liability for showing others that information. Arguably, they have no right to a laptop that isn't yours or viewing information that you do not have the right to show them; they would need to get a release from the company in order to view that data.

Re:Company Computers and NDA's?? (1)

Lieutenant_Dan (583843) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956620)

Can they ask to see the contents of a company laptop?

Sure, they can. Any proper company would have some policy or guidelines in regards travelling with company hardware. If they know you're going to Iran or China, they may say that you're not permitted. If they allow you, it's because they are willing to assume all risks that go along having such device under the laws of a foreign country.

We have a policy: don't take our gear outside the country. If they insist, have their VP or director sign off. If the data becomes compromised you will feel the heavy hand of legal affairs (fired, criminally charged and sued for damages). 99.999% then decide not to take the notebook. Only one arrogant fool decided to take his notebook outside the country (to France, where one has to divulge your private encryption key is requested).

they can stick theyre hand up your butt (3, Insightful)

BlueshiftVFX (1158033) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956464)

they can stick theyre hand up your butt, why would you be worried about your laptop. your laptop won't cry in the shower to boy george after it's violating probing.

I want to visit the US less and less every day (1)

Piata (927858) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956518)

Considering my laptop would be the most expensive item I could bring with me on a trip, just the mere thought of them confiscating it and all the data I have on it (which is easily worth more than the cost of the laptop to me) is terrifying. I'm sure this doesn't happen often, but they better have a damn good reason to take away something that valuable. i.e. more than circumstantial evidence.

Welcome to AmeriKKKa (1)

saleenS281 (859657) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956526)

I saw this coming the day 9/11 happened. We're all now guilty until proven innocent "in this post 9/11 world". Welcome to AmeriKKKa, home of the rich, land of the have's. Why do it for the children when you can do it "to stop terrorism!!!!".

summy: borders are 'privacy FREE zones' (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956544)

There are all sorts of lessons in these cases. One is that the border seems be a privacy-free zone. A second is that encryption programs work. A third is that you should keep your password to yourself. And the most important is that you should leave your laptop at home.

I don't understand why crossing some border means I have to give up more rights than at other times.

why? can someone explain why I have to have my personal life examined in such detail because I want to stand 'over there' for a little bit and then return?

I just don't get it.

one thing that worries me the most - there is no way you can know if they MODIFIED your drives! added spyware. whatever.

so now you'll have to md5 your whole filesystem and assume its been tampered with if anyone has 'intercepted' your lappie.

great. might as well just leave the thing home. just like they say.

in fact, I'll just not travel. yeah, that's better.

Notice body searches need the same suspicion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956554)

The laptop searches are annoying but relatively easily avoided by wiping them before going through customs and downloading the stuff you need after transiting the border,
or where poor internet access makes this difficult, hiding the data where a cursory inspection won't find it.
However, the article mentions that the customs officials can do body searches (presumably this includes body cavity searches) with "reasonable suspicion". This is a lot harder to avoid. If you fit the wrong profile or piss off the wrong agent, its body cavity search for you. At the level of "reasonable suspicion", it isn't hard to make up some excuse that will cover you.

Of course they can. (1)

dameron (307970) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956564)

They can stick their hand inside your ass.

It'll be hard to argue that the contents of your laptop deserve any more protection than your back hole.

Lesson here: don't store your hard drive in your ass.

I think it's silly, since they'd only catch the most idiotic of terrorists/criminals who, for some reason, must carry their incriminating data on them physically.

yet another reason not to visit the states (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956572)

keep em coming...

so what's next... (1)

vajaradakini (1209944) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956628)

Are they going to have the right to read my diary if I travel through the US?

I mean, I keep things that are just as personal on my computer.

truecrypt provides plausible deniability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956632)

Truecrypt [truecrypt.org] provides encryption, hidden volume-in-a-volume and plausible deniability. Oh, it's free and win/nux multiplatform, too.

Unreasonable search and seizure? (1)

Nomen Publicus (1150725) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956634)

I don't understand how searching everybody can be reasonable. If there was a high percentage of successful searches that disclosed illegal materials there may be some argument in favour. However, there are vanishingly few cases where examining a laptop shows that it is really a bomb or contains plans for blowing up some damn dam.

But then, of the billions of shoes examined over the past few years, exactly NONE turned out to contain a bomb. So, one has to wonder why the policy continues.

If you really want to worry, consider that the average human can carry at least a quarter pound of C4 + a detonator internally...

Dual Password Encryption? (1)

Symbolis (1157151) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956668)

I thought TrueCrypt [truecrypt.org] had this capability, at least on encrypted "containers".

Basically, if you put in password1, you get one set of data decrypted(and shown). If you put in password2, you get a completely different set of data.

Seems like a good way to get past these issues...assuming I'm remembering right. ;)

Terminal A? (5, Funny)

delire (809063) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956676)

As a heavy terminal user I long since lost interest in running a desktop environment. This has become a problem when I travel internationally, something I do very often.

On two separate occassions I've been asked to boot my machine. On both occassions the security officials became quite disturbed when they saw a text only boot sequence. One asked me to turn the machine off immediately and after 30 minutes I was able to explain what was on my computer in a way they liked. The second incident was worse. Once my laptop had come out of suspend-to-RAM the security guy demanded "Log into your computer please". On seeing a single maximised xterm he became nervous. He held me until an official came down from upstairs, who promptly laughed warmly and said "It's unix. It's OK".

I know a couple of other people that have been in very similar situations.

These days I have a session manager such that I can boot into a clean GNOME desktop should such a situation arise, complete with soothing coastal background image.

The rationale for having me boot my computer apparently was that it may be a bomb, not that my contents might be suspicious. The logic of having me sit in front of them and power on a bomb just to find out if it is, in fact, a bomb still escapes me to this day. Nearly as bizarre as the giant liquids disposal vat at security check: "Please mix your bomb ingredients in this packed airport instead of on the plane. Thankyou."

The main difference is.. (1)

fred911 (83970) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956704)

That the carrier has no alternative when he is carrying clothing, papers and other physical items. As far as data is concerned it is unnecessary for the owner of the data to have a copy. It's trivial to cross boarders electronically, anonymously, and privately. That, in it self should negate the right of customs to browse hard drives for data.

   
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