back to article Privacy watchdogs challenge laptop seizures at US borders

Privacy advocates have sued the Obama administration over its practice of seizing laptops, cell phones, and other devices at US borders and copying their contents even when the owner isn't suspected of wrongdoing. In a complaint filed in US District Court in New York City on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the …

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Boffin

And the moral of the story:

Encrypt your data, upload it to $filestore on the Internet, and download it once you have crossed the border.

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Anonymous Coward

They don't like that...

One of our execs went to the US with a laptop that only had windows, office and a VPN client installed. Also had a CD with a disc wipe utility on it.

They wanted to know why he was bring in a laptop with no documents on it, and why did he have a secure disc wipe utility, what was he hiding. They imaged the disc before they let him go (after 2 1/2 hours). Hope they had fun trying to find the secret hidden info.

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Black Helicopters

Will that really fool them?

I believe they will be smart enough to figure out someone's hid stuff if their computer is practically empty.

That could just result in a deeper search, internet history, HD, Hidden files etc

This is a country which can turn the internet off now if someone threatens to hack the government, so hiding your data will just draw attention to you and possibly lead to you being detained while they make sure you're not a terrorist.

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Bronze badge
Unhappy

Well, the simple answer to that is....

....to tell them that he has removed all the information from his laptop because he knew that they were likely to seize it. I imagine that this will irritate the bunch of control freaks who inhabit this sort of job, but I'm certain that there is no law that requires you to bring your information with you.

These days this is just a sensible security tactic for any business.

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Black Helicopters

Yeah store it on the internet...

That just makes things easier for the NSA. ;-)

The truth is that if you are carrying sensitive information you do want to encrypt it and keep it out in the open.

If a custom's agent asks. Tell them the truth. Its confidential information hence encrypted.

Use a strong enough encryption and encryption scheme (like encrypting an encrypted file) and you will have ensured your privacy.

I can see both sides to the argument. We live in dangerous times.

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Silver badge

Re : Yeah store it on the internet

If it's well encrypted it doesn't matter where you store it

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Silver badge
WTF?

"We live in dangerous times"

Well done - you have learned you propaganda well. Go to the top of the class.

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Black Helicopters

@chemist

If you say so... ;-)

Hint: One thing bad about a password. You have to be able to remember it.

This means that you're limited on what you can use for a password.

So its always better to keep the 'personal' data handy and accessible.

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Boffin

Delusions of Grandure

What you have is the issue of US Customs, and Law Enforcement in general, does not attract the best and brightest of society. It tends to attract people with "bully" tenancies, who if they are given a little authority, will use it just because "they can". Under the US Constitution, "fishing expeditions" by law Enforcement are not allowed. At a minimum, they should be required to demonstrate "probably cause" and better yet, have to go before a judge and present a "reasonable suspicion" argument.

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Boffin

You're right...kinda

I agree about the meatheads in customs, however in regards to the US Constitution protecting those crossing the border, it gets more complicated than you made it out to be. There is a border search exemption to the fourth amendment which removes the requirement for a warrant. What the exemption does NOT do is completely remove the protection from unreasonable searches, and routine and non-routine do not seem to be direct equivalents to reasonable and unreasonable.

If the US did not have such a right leaning Supreme Court, I would say that we would eventually come to the position that computer files are like private correspondence and that a non-routine search would be unreasonable, as the possibility of finding contraband in a computer file is much less likely than finding contraband in a letter or package. Unfortunately our current Supreme Court is unlikely to split from Rehnquist, who issued an opinion stating that the entry into the country makes searches reasonable. Stephens dissented, of course.

http://supreme.justia.com/us/431/606/

On the other hand, he did not seem to disagree with the guidelines which prohibit the reading of private correspondence, but I'm certain that Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Thomas will ignore that particular point.

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Anonymous Coward

Why DID he have piccies of terrorist organization rallies on his laptop?

I'm curious too.....and hey, if .gov wants a copy of my laptop/cell phone drives they're welcome to 'em, nothing in there....

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WTF?

Title, what title..

Cause he ca, cause he was viewing article that had those images, cause he wanted to document for his own personal library how cruel people are in general.....should I go on????

But hey, i'm sure it's in the good interest of it's citizens to prevent terrorism...

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Silver badge
Stop

Short answer:

None of yer damn bid'niss!

Now sod off, azzole!

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Paris Hilton

Why, that's perfectly plausible

A man could be involved in a research project: jihad, terror, inter-religious relations - those are very popular research subject nowadays, not to mention them being a hot debate subject in any university campus.

Snap out of it! Taking pictures of high buildings doesn't make you a terrorist, any more than having a copy of your CD on your iPod makes you a thief or keeping a photo of your kid in your wallet makes you a pedo.

Paris, because i'd like to search her lap...top...

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Anonymous Coward

@Why DID he have piccies of terrorist organization rallies on his laptop?

Hope you enjoy the view while you grovel on your knees.

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WTF?

MYO-F-B!

We was a researcher into political activities and as such he has more interest than most? Or how about you mind your own f**king business?

Talking of twats jumping to conclusions. Out of interest, you don't work as the security guard in a well known store in Glasgow? I was in said store the other day and a smartly dressed, olive-skinned gentleman walked in and almost immediately he was followed by a rather repugnant rent-a-cop, right up until he left some 2-3 mins later. In the 15 mins I was there, no one else was followed in the same manner, but then everyone else was of a pasty/yellow skin, that's quite popular north of Hadrian's Wall.

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Flame

Yes...

, nothing in there....

Oh that's ok.

So if your a business exec with classified business material,

Or if you work for a foreign goverment

Or you work in child protection, and may legitimatly have images of child abuse on your pc.

Or your are doing research on the Isreali / Arab wars and hope to find a solution to the conflict

Or you've discovered the means to purpetual energy and are of to patent it in person.

Just because you are a nobody with an incredibly mundane life and job, doesn't mean everyone else is.

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U can't haz my brainz nowai

Note to self, Never Ever Ever Never, bring any electronic device to USA ... Leave all such things at home, even alarmclocks, electric razors, camra's ... if when visiting USA , purchase on their side cheap stuff use it there then discard before returning home. They shall Never Ever Ever Never have any of my actual belongings. (no, not even my micro-snot boogers.)

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Unhappy

Or your cash-

Don't go.

I feel sorry for the US citizens- they have no choice.

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TBW
Big Brother

Current admin's practice?

While I'm sure they're suing the current administration by default, I'm not sure I'd word it as "the Obama administration's practice" of seizing such things. It makes it sound like this is something new that the current admin created and implemented all on their own.

They're not the first, and are just continuing a trend that's been in place for quite some years now. Though I certainly would like to see it shot down regardless as I find it despicable. I just find the current wording of the article's opening statements a bit misleading.

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FAIL

Linux FTW

If they should choose to peruse my hard drive; good luck. The entire drive is encrypted with secure file containers for any personal files... of course they can see anything on the Windows partition, but I wouldn't use it for anything important.

Now to take my laptop South of the border a few times...

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Silver badge
Pint

You can't trust government!

Many countries are playing this game, with Britain adopting the most extreme position - Blair's password or prison option. Carrying a video also seems to keep border Plods satisfied.

It's best to use TrueCrypt with a minimal OS as the cover with a few innocuous notes and the good OS and data securely locked up.

Cell phones should have all data stored on n encrypted computer with all registers cleaned out along with the SIMM. Contact numbers are best stored on the SIMM, too. The cell should be powered down for at least 30 minutes before Customs as data lingers in memory.

Inserting a very small piece of paper over the battery terminals will often persuade them the battery is flat.

Hopefully this action will prevail - remember anyone within the borders of the U.S. of A. enjoys the protection of The Constitution, not just American citizens.

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But...

"remember anyone within the borders of the U.S. of A. enjoys the protection of The Constitution, not just American citizens."

Until you actually successfully pass through border control you are not yet within the borders of the United States and hence do not enjoy the protection of the Constitution. This is how the PREVIOUS administration justified the searching, and retaining, of personal data when it was introduced.

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Where am I then?

Seems to me that border control has no jurisdiction outside the U.S. Either you're in or you're out.

Probably someone will claim that there is a ten or twenty foot area of no-mans-land at border crossings where the Constitution magically doesn't apply, but if that's the case, and Canada or Mexico want to claim it, we would not have a problem, because it wasn't ours in the first place.

Our Constitution just says "...[no] unreasonable searches and seizures..." It doesn't say "...except at border and at the international arrivals hall at the airport."

The U.S Constitution protects my rights as an American citizen, WRT the U.S. government, everywhere -- not just within the borders of the U.S.

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Stop

Anywhere within 100 miles of the border, the 4th amendment does NOT apply. To ANYONE.

Unknown to many, the US constitution's fourth amendment (and in fact several other parts of it) does not apply ANYWHERE WITHIN 100 MILES OF THE BORDER.

The ACLU calls it the "constitution free" zone, http://www.aclu.org/national-security_technology-and-liberty/are-you-living-constitution-free-zone, but that's not a 100% accurate term. However, what it does mean is that you cannot argue the 4th amendment to any official anywhere within 100 miles from the border. Even if you've entered the country and drove a good hour into it at maximum speed, a stop and search is still perfectly legal regardless of whether you're a drug trafficker, a tourist, or a US citizen.

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Flame

@Mike Kamermans

Mike is quite correct, and furthermore, many people don't realise what classes as a border. Within 100 miles of an international airport is a border for example.

The reason ACLU call it a constitution free zone is that other restrictions apply. A visitor or alien has to be in possession of all immigration documents at all times within a border area, and the police can stop them and demand they show documents at any time. This means that, in theory, every foreign worker in New York is supposed to carry a passport and all immigration documents with them at all time. Even on a run around central park. No-one is enforcing this rule in NYC, but there have been some cases elsewhere in the state.

Remind anyone of anything?

The spams stopped taking note of their own constitution a while back. Gitmo, waterboarding, etc. All signs of an empire on its wane.

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Try much older than that.

The policy of requiring documents within 100 miles of the border actually significantly predates the Bush or Obama administrations. As far back as the late '70's (Carter administration) I had to provide my identification each time I traveled by bus north and I'm definitely non-Hispanic.

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Black Helicopters

We need to know

"devices of 6,671 travelers from October 2008 to June 2010"

And how many Terrorists did that net?

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RE:we need to know

0 (zero)

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Joke

Well!

Well as we all know there would be darn sight more IF they didn't do the searches! Them terrorists are a sneaky bunch so used to simply walking into countries with their plans carefully documented in easy to read PDF, XLS and DOC format files in carefully organised folder structures!

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FAIL

nothing inaccurate about "current admin's practice"

This is the current administration's practice, and it's their policy. They reviewed the Bush-era policy and issued new rules in August 2009 limiting it somewhat. During that review they could have decided to stop pursuing the policy, but they did not.

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Linux

Encryption...

...won't really work when they detain you until you unlock your encrypted partitions.

Also, what TBW said. Don't feed the Tea Party trolls more than they already are.

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Happy

Truecrypt hidden partitions to the rescue..

...once again

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Black Helicopters

@Momiji

If you're a US citizen, it would be an illegal detention and a violation of your civil rights... (Although there are reasons why they could argue that it was a legal detention.)

Worst case is that they put you on the 'no fly' list which makes your life a bit harder.

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Pint

Give up your passwords ...

"won't really work when they detain you until you unlock your encrypted partitions."

Use Truecrypt.

Give them the password.

They can then look through the files at their leisure. Obviously they won't be seeing anything in the hidden partition.

The other option is to not bother going to countries with such stupid rules.

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Gates Horns

Copyright

I sure hope they don't copy any of my mp3's... The RIAA will sue the U.S. Government out of existence.

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rubberhose

for all those talking about encryption, doesn't work as they will want the key, and/or they will send it to people like the NSA to break it....

therefore use rubberhose, give them the fake key, real stuff is still encrypted, and they cant say you didn't give it.

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Thumb Up

TrueCrypt

The previously mentioned TrueCrypt is a much more mature, user-friendly package and also has the fake password feature.

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Silver badge

NSA, err no

They won't be bothering them with the effort involved in breaking encryption unless there's something juicy to be found i.e. you are a known terrorist or have links to etc. They certainly won't be bothering them with cracking the encryption on your truecrypt container containing grumble pics.

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Anonymous Coward

@PsYcHoTiC_MaDmAn

Truecrypt does the same thing if you use the hidden partition option, plus it's compatible with Windows.

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Black Helicopters

are you sure?

My *mate* in Brazil has thwarted both Brazilian and US authorities with his TC-protected system with IncrediPassword.

TrueCrypt + Plausible Deniability = where it's at.

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Silver badge

@Lee

Your 'mate' as you put it was at the center of an investigation in to criminal activity. Unless the TSA is in fact investigating you... they won't go through the hassle or expense.

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Anonymous Coward

So what you do is...

Encrypt some simple road-runner cartoon. Label it "overseas rally"./"Molly 10 years"

Beep Beep. Zoom.......

Wile E. Coyote attempts to strike again.

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Grenade

Solution: Never fly to, or via, the USA

Works for me anyway.

The result of this policy is that I mostly fly via such bastions of civil liberties as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong.

Hey at least they don't want to iris scan and fingerprint my kids.

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I agree.

We would do well to watch our own governments to make sure they don't end up like that.

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Silver badge

The simple answer

is to not hold any data on your laptop. Keep it all in a remote file store of some description, and access it when needed. Ensure you don't store passwords/keys to it on the laptop itself.

Then if they want, they can copy everything from the laptop. There is no 'data' there, nothing personal or private, just the apps needed to access it.

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Welcome

Posturing from both ends

Don't you think all this "I'd do this and that" is just IT nerd posturing to counter the TSA posturing?

First off anything encrypted on your computer is just going to grab their interest and probably result in a much bigger delay at the border than you would get if you just said "Sure go ahead take a look".

Frankly I don't care if they look through my contacts list, documents or even look at my email. I have a lot of very confidential work stuff on here but they are not going to understand the mathematical ramblings of a team of wireless Phd's or care in the least about the project schedules I have for our customers. It might get a cursory glance but it's not going to make me feel 'invaded'

The best approach is not to have the pictures of the last reunion of your terrorist cell or the instruction booklet for that thermo nuclear device you just bought off ebay hanging around on your computer when you are going through the border checks. Any muggins terrorist is going to know that and will have sent a paper copy in the post already.

Yes we all know they are doing this just because they can but that's the point they can so just make it easy and you will be on your way without delay and you can just think to yourselves that you have justified that persons job for the day and his/her family will not have to resort to benefits. Think of it as a public service

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Anonymous Coward

@Posturing from both ends

Well of course that's right, no one cares about them looking through stuff you don't want kept private. That's precisely the reason the truecrypt plausible deniability system works so well, if they see an encrypted file, you give them access, they see some mildly private stuff and you're on your way. They don't even know there is a hidden partition with your bank account and credit card details in it, (I'm assuming even you wouldn't want some minimum wage border monkey rooting through that would you?)

It only becomes posturing if they know you're hiding something and you are taunting them with the fact they can't access it.

The whole point here is there is no reason to just bend over and give anyone who wants it access to your personal data just because they feel like it. If you don't care about your personal right to privacy fine, lots of other people do care very much however. (I also don't feel any obligation to justify some jumped up night watchmens job).

And as another commenter has pointed out, having nothing incriminating on your computer doesn't guarantee you won't be hassled anyway so screw 'em.

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FAIL

Do you homework first.

"First off anything encrypted on your computer is just going to grab their interest and probably result in a much bigger delay..."

You really have no idea how Truecrypt plausible deniability works do you. Here's how the conversation goes.

Gimp: Can I look at your laptop contents

You: Sure

Gimp: I see an encrypted file [assuming he can even spot it of course - what does he search for?]

You: Yup, it's personnal stuff

Gimp: Can you unencrypt it so I can see the contents

You: Sure [enter duress password]

Gimp: Ah. Nice personal photos. OK on your way.

This is not posturing - in fact is it the oposite - you play along the whole way.

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Anonymous Coward

and do your homework as well....

http://www.zdnetasia.com/schneier-research-team-cracks-truecrypt-62043884.htm

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