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Encryption Privacy United States

The Legal Purgatory at the US Border: Detained, Searched, and Interrogated 555

An anonymous reader writes "America may be the land of the free, but upon arrival millions of visitors cross a legal purgatory at the U.S. border. It is an international legal phenomenon that is left much to the discretion of host countries. In some cases, this space between offers travelers far fewer rights than some of the least democratic and free countries on Earth. Limited access to legal counsel, unwarranted searches, and questionable rights to free speech to name a few. One of the more controversial — and yet still legally a contested grey area — are the rights travelers have in regards to electronics and device searches."
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The Legal Purgatory at the US Border: Detained, Searched, and Interrogated

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 01, 2013 @08:24PM (#44734309)

    Just living within 100 miles of a US border gives them the right to conduct those searches of you and your property.

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @08:37PM (#44734399)

    TrueCrypt [] can help. Put your encrypted hard drives somewhere else in your luggage.

    Very bad advice indeed. These things can be found in the luggage searches, and then they have clear signs of deception and can give you the special treatment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 01, 2013 @08:53PM (#44734527)

    I was going to meet a gf working in an art concervation lab in massachussets for the july 4th weekend in the mid-80's.

    I took a bus from Toronto to Albany as I was a grad student and did not have a car as I could not afford such a beast.

    The border guards held up the bus because I had a few textbooks on materials -- which I was reading on my long bus trip -- I was also taking a side trip to the GE R&D center in Schenectady to meed somebody who could help with my research in plastic fracture mechanics. I am Canadian born and have never been a member of a communist party -- needless to say was run thru the wringer. I made the mistake of admitting I was stopping over to meet a researcher at GE research facility wrt to my PhD research. OMG can you say ripped apart my luggage, all my materials and held up the bus which all other passengers thought I was a criminal. Thus bus was delayed by 1 hour because I admidted I was off to visit a researcher at GE HQ R&D in Schenectady NY. Well doughhh

    20 years later learned to tell border guards I am going to visit car parts manufacturerers for sales calls.

    Big difference. Back in 2000 the following happened:

    My VP of the time was crossing 20-30 minutes after us and was bragging he was a VP of a Hydrogen fuel cell company. I told the border security we were selling auto parts to GM which was true -- my VP bragged he was selling Hydrogen Fuel Cells to GM and the detained him, ripped the car apart because all they heard was hydrogen and associasted with a hydrogen bomb -- morons -- needless to say they ripped his car apart.

    Moral to the story is keep your info to a minimum and assume the people you are dealing with are morons as they are.

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @09:04PM (#44734591) Journal
    Wait for the news about been found with a computer thats "too" clean.
    A person moving around using a new or older computer with a fresh install of an OS and nothing to clone on factory fresh storage.
    No images foe later facial recognition, gps or meta data in images, serial number of the camera/s, video clips, lists of chat friends, plain text of chats, internet use logs with cookie/cache files.
    No complex passwords to request and then try with a users other networked/local files later.
    If a person went to all the trouble of buying a new drive and altering their hardware and software ...
  • by timholman ( 71886 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @09:06PM (#44734597)

    Use a separate laptop for travel, or else keep the sensitive stuff on removable partitions (SSDs, USB keys, etc) which never leave the house.

    This is absolutely the best tactic. In my research group, it is standard procedure to use a travel laptop when traveling to conferences out of the country, even to "friendly" venues. In my case, I use a MacBook Air with the screensaver and firmware passwords enabled. I don't even bother to encrypt, since nothing goes on the SSD that is the least bit sensitive.

    Granted, there is always the remote possibility that someone might succeed in compromising the OS during a business trip, and hoping that I or one of my colleagues will bring that laptop back behind our firewall. When in doubt, that is dealt with by re-imaging the drive as the first order of business upon one's return.

    We often joke (half seriously) that the day is going to come when we will buy disposable laptops that will be abandoned or destroyed when traveling to certain countries. Yes, we are paranoid, but are we paranoid enough?

    It's common sense, just as it is also common sense to presume that every conversation is being recorded, whether by phone or in person, when meeting colleagues overseas. Despite pious protestations to the contrary by some parties, one can be certain that there is no government on the planet that wouldn't do so if given the opportunity.

  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @09:31PM (#44734775) Homepage
    Really, this is old news. Just ask Jacob Appelbaum. []

    Far, far more frightening though is the possibility that you may find yourself shipped off to a foreign country (Syria say) to be tortured and imprisoned. [] What happened to Maher Arar (and others) is more than enough to make me avoid crossing the US border for any reason.

    You may believe you're innocent, and that there's no reason why you would have problems, but so did he.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 01, 2013 @09:51PM (#44734883)

    "We often joke (half seriously) that the day is going to come when we will buy disposable laptops that will be abandoned or destroyed when traveling to certain countries."

    Why is that a joke? That's what I do.

    I don't carry devices of any kind when I travel - usually to the UK and Ireland for the purpose of buying antiquities to resell.

    I buy a $200 laptop, and download my encrypted backup from my U.S. server. It takes 20-30 minutes to get my environment back. When I leave, I backup, encrypt and upload what needs to be backed up (if anything), wipe the drive with shred, reinstall the original image, and then (usually) give it as a gift to whoever expresses an interest.

    I buy a disposable phone, and chuck it somewhere destructive when I leave.

    I'm older, so when I go through customs I play the luddite ("Computers? Bah!"). It's amazing how quickly I'm on my way: just that convenience is worth the cost of the laptop. And on my next trip I have some remembered good will...

  • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter@t e d a t a> on Sunday September 01, 2013 @10:03PM (#44734951) Journal

    My wife came back recently from a vacation to her home country. Green-card permanent resident alien. Detained at customs in the airport for three hours. She sat by herself in a room with no knowledge of why she was being detained. After three hours, an officer came into her room and said, "You're clear to go." She asked multiple times to multiple personnel why she was being detained, and everyone said, "We're not at liberty to say."

    Six years ago, my sister-in-law was immigrating to the United States for the very first time. She came over on a fiance visa. Prior to her arrival, they had decided to wed in her host country before coming over to the United States. My brother called USCIS on three separate occasions to see if this would be acceptable.* Three times, the helpline said yes. When my sister-in-law arrived at her port-of-entry, the customs official casually asked where they were going to get married. My brother said that they had already wed overseas and had plans to visit the immigration office the following day to file the change-of-status paperwork. The officer immediately detained my sister-in-law, made a few calls, then provided her and my brother one last opportunity to exchange luggage, say goodbye, and then placed her on the same plane on the return flight back to her home country. There was no opportunity to argue, make phone calls to lawyers, senators...nothing. Another ten months, 32 pages of government paperwork, and $800 dollars in immigration fees later, and she finally stepped foot on American soil.

    You show me a customs officer, and I'll show you a sadist. Nothing gets these people more excited than the opportunity to concurrently fight terrorism and inflict misery in the process.

    * For those ignorant to the immigration process, the line between a spouse and a fiance is not as defined as you may think. In fact, most spouses immigrate to the United States on a fiance visa, because it's faster to file and process. (Google "Immigrating a spouse using a fiance visa" and find out for yourself.) But legal-story-short, the way my brother did it was not the way the customs agent accepted it, despite three different representatives at the USCIS saying otherwise.

  • by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Monday September 02, 2013 @12:58AM (#44735921) Journal

    You're out of your mind. Rights exist only because and to the extent that people recognize them, particularly governments that are in a position to defend or deny them.

    Which is precisely the reason those Rights are spoken of as innate and inalienable. The only position one can take to force a government to defend a right is to argue its innateness because clearly ever other method is consistently infringed by government who would like nothing better to infringe them in pursuit of the politics of the day.

    There are no god given rights and if there were, you weren't offered any right to privacy according to any religion that I know of.

    You should look into deism, then. It seems pretty clear that the human condition demands things like the right to speak, the right to travel, the right to privacy, and the right to justice system based on fairness--but a small list of things. Deism exemplifies the idea that a non-interfering God has left man to explore and expound upon the very things that are human rights and make up a person's humanity. The whole Age of Enlightenment very much was upon this discourse and spoke in terms of such things. Now, if you want to argue that Deism is a philosophical construct because it's not an organized religion, well, that's another matter.

    As for their being innate, that can't be true. If the were innate, people would have had the same rights everywhere and throughout history. They manifestly have not and do not.

    And you confuse the idea that something that is innate cannot be infringed. Well, I innately can see, but I can be blinded. Is sight not innate? Because mail delivery didn't exist since the dawn of time, does access to mail delivery suddenly not become an innate right in a society where mail delivery can, is, and can be a common thing? If you think that because there are parts of the world, even today, which are so tyrannical or so impoverished to not the high standards expected of the enlightened that such things cannot be innate, then I'd argue you don't understand the concept of how a positive right can be innate. This is because the innateness of rights comes not from being inborn or being from the dawn of time. They stem naturally from the experience of man in seeing the world and understanding exactly the things that innately are without interference from a tyrannical government or corporation or such and hence are inherently rights.

    Your rights depend on where you are and who you are with. Thinking otherwise is simply asking for trouble you can avoid by recognising the facts.

    And you think the trouble is chicken and egg. The trouble runs deeper. To argue something is innate and inalienable is to believe, at one level, that something cannot be infringed, broken, or removed. Yet is clear that the argument for innate and inalienability is precisely such that rights are recognized so they will not be infringed, broken, or removed. To frame the discussion as if your rights are all but that which are written down chains you not only to the very finiteness of past experience and imagination but chains you to alterations to the paper they are written on. It is why the 9th Amendment as written is so clear and dear: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The words "innate" and "inalienable" rights are a rallying cry that we do not step down the dark path we now tread. And trying to semantically dissecting the words only further dissects are freedom.

    I think that's the reason for the rallying cry of "kill all the lawyers". In the end, though, it should have always been "kill all the legislators".

  • I've travelled all over the world and the following is the complete list of border security issues I've endured over the last 10 years:

    1. Brisbane, Australia, 2003: They made me throw out a brick of cheese I'd purchased in New Zealand. They told me that, had it been in the original unopened factory packaging, they'd have let it through.

    2. Penang, Malaysia, 2006: They had me open up my laptop and start it. The guard then picked it up, held it up high to look at the bottom, then lost his grip and dropped it. It bounced off the conveyor, and landed on, then cartwheeled down the flight of steps immediately behind the conveyor all the way down to the next floor. The guard looked absolutely horrified and practically fell down the steps himself going after it and bringing it back up to me, apologising profusely all the while, then waited while I made sure it still worked. I'm posting with that laptop now, BTW, which I still keep around for reading stuff online when I'm too lazy to get the good one out of my bag.

    3. Beijing, China, 2010: Got read the riot act for having "smuggled" a cigarette lighter with me on a flight from Frankfurt. I told them, truthfully, that they saw it at the security checkpoint in Frankfurt and did not offer to take it away from me. The border guard in question accused me of lying. I responded, "Please go give them a call and ask them if they take away cigarette lighters from outbound passengers on international flights, because I am pretty sure they will tell you that they don't. I'll be happy to wait while you check." He came back about 5 minutes later and said, "You can go." He kept the lighter, though.

    4. Newark International, USA, 2011: Had a half-metre ethernet cable confiscated as a potential weapon. Me: "Weapon? Huh?" Bitchy old TSA lady: "You could strangle somebody with that thing." Me: "That would have never occurred to me in a million years, until you suggested it just now. Well done." She started to say something after that, but her 2 colleagues both started chuckling, and she gave me a look that could have curdled vinegar. After about 10 seconds, one of the others said, "Maddy's having one of her good days--On your way, son", and off I went.

  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Monday September 02, 2013 @02:19AM (#44736335) Homepage Journal

    The government is "the hackers"

  • Sheeple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 02, 2013 @03:16AM (#44736623)

    I always travel in border areas with my laptop, information and all. I have it well encrypted, bios, login and screen saver password protected. When they ask for the passwords (and they almost always do) I gently and politely tell then to fuck off. I don't carry anything that sensitive, mostly my personal information....but that's not the point. The more we willingly give up the more they will take. Yes, they are willing to take, er...try to take no matter my level of cooperation and I have lost many hours defending my own freedom, as well as yours. DO NOT cooperate. DO NOT make it easy on them. DO NOT give in or give up. If we all did this we would make it clear to those in power that we will not be abused so easily. We will not be complicit in our own freedom's demise. It all reminds me of a famous quote. No, not that tired Ben Franklin quote about liberty and security although that does apply. It reminds me of Dylan Thomas. Not so much about the dying of a man but the death of freedom and democracy's light in the world.

    Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 02, 2013 @07:19AM (#44737475)

    All us techies have heard in whispered tones that a single wipe might be insufficient, but that's just folklore now, maybe it was true when we were on double digit MiB capacities for HDDs, when the magnetic bits could be flipped and were so big that the edges might retain their old values, but now?

    Find me one company that offers the service, recovering data from a deliberately zeroed drive, for any amount of money. The service doesn't exist.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson