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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 khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Sunday September 01, 2013 @08:00PM (#44734103)

    But first off, don't be stupid. Sanitize/Sterilize ALL of your data PRIOR to starting your trip.

    They cannot find what you are not carrying.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed. I have a clean system installation image that goes onto a sanitized disk for my laptop for US border crosses. Have had it since 2006 or so. Fortunately, no need to travel there in the last few years, but I will never cross the US border (or certain others) with a regular installation.

      These border-searches are also pretty stupid: Use ssh to copy your date when over the border, and wipe the disk before going back.

    • by jsepeta ( 412566 )

      better to leave all your devices at home, or never travel abroad.

    • 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 ...
      • Just tell them that your machine got virused and you had to use the restore disk... Seriously though, if it gets that bad, they'll detain you for not having a cellphone for them to suck all your contacts out of. At that point, better not to even travel.
    • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @09:15PM (#44734671)
      Better: Do not go to the fucking USA. Travelling to the U.S. today is the best way to turn your vacation into a nightmare.
    • They cannot find what you are not carrying.

      Actually, that isn't necessarily true. I have heard of cases where people were required to log into their e-mail accounts at the border.

  • Which way is up to you.
    • Were I an American, I would only have one option to cross - out. Were I not an American, I would have the option to give it a miss entirely.

      Your attempt at bumper sticker wisdom has encountered an error. Abort/Retry/Fail?

  • Until we can actually identify and search everyone coming in, people who want to bring contraband into America can just cross the Mexican border (they could cross the Canadian border too, but at they would have to get into Canada first and Canada has restrictions similar to those of America).

    Build a border with a big enough deterrent effect that anyone attempting to cross can be assumed to be up to serious no good - like drugs or arms smuggling - and you can shoot any border-crossers because they won't b
    • by jsepeta ( 412566 )

      For 9/11 style protection, the wall should be built on the Canadian border. Just a reminder that the terrorist pilots entered the US through Canada.

    • by morcego ( 260031 )

      Or make your country so shitty, with so few freedoms left and so much oppression, that no one wants to go there.

      Never mind all those billion dollars from tourism. At least no unwanted SOFTWARE will be entering your country.

  • by Anonymous Coward

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

  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @08:25PM (#44734321)
    Extensive checks and searching goes back centuries. Keep in mind that import duties (taxes on imported goods) used to be the major source of funding for the US government. Making sure everything was declared and combatting smuggling was a major effort.

    Some people think the term "bootlegging" is from the 1920s prohibition era but it is much older than that. Those prohibition era folks with a liquor flask in their boot we copying sailors from earlier centuries where the sailors tried to sneak small expensive goods past customs officials. Having a federal agent tell you to take off your shoes is something as old as the country.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      And its still in effect today. The TSA agents doing the bag searches prior to boarding aircraft are dumb as rocks. But that's where you'd expect the professionals to be to prevent terrorism, bomb smuggling, etc. Meanwhile, the customs people are the professional law enforcement types. Armed, vigilant, with contraband sniffing dogs, etc. But if I was a terrorist, that would be too late. The plane would be in the side of a building long before then.

      Its all about maintaining an economic Iron Curtain. You'd be

      • If the primary goal is to steal trade secrets why bother with any of that? You can purchase the use of a 50GB VPS for $6 a month and store any encrypted data you want on it which can be accessed anywhere in the world with Internet access.
        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          which can be accessed anywhere in the world with Internet access.

          Did they really just examine your (cleaned) hard drive at the border? Or did they install that NSA keylogging software? I don't care where you hide it, once you are sitting in your Holiday Inn hotel room, you are going to download and read it eventually. Game over.

          Your best bet would be to come through the border with no laptop or tablet and pick one up for cash at the local discount PC shop.

    • Extensive checks and searching goes back centuries...

      Checks at international borders, sure. But today's network of internal border checkpoints is new.

      As recently as the 1990s, Americans could travel freely within the country. But today, I can't drive from Texas to California without passing through one of their make-believe border checkpoints. That bullshit doesn't go back centuries.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Sunday September 01, 2013 @08:27PM (#44734335) Homepage Journal

    this space between offers travelers far fewer rights


    Rights aren't offered, they're innate (or God-given, if you prefer) and can only be infringed. Until everybody is (again) well-educated enough to say, "this space is one where governments infringe rights with reckless abandon," then little progress will be made.

    • So where is yahwey defending these people?
      Sorry, Rights are only given to the people by the government to the point that the people force the government to allow it.
      What we see here is a populace not informed enough, and too complacent to keep the government in check to keep these rights available.

    • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @10:40PM (#44735199)
      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. 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. 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. 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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        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.


      • 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...

        Your idea of rights is the complete opposite of the ideas upon which the United States was founded.

        From the Declaration of Independence:

        "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

        People who agree with these

        • Yes that's true. They were arguing a political agenda and using whatever they could think of to justify their act of rebellion against a tyrannical authority. And most of them believed in a God that I do not believe in. Like all religious people at every time and place, they projected their own desires into the mind of god. Likewise the king imagined God had given him the right to rule over them.

          You should be aware that the self-evidentness of rights was a novel concept in the Enlightenment. Up to that

  • Yes, border patrol is intrusive. In all countries. I've had interesting experiences entering Canada (on a flight from the USA) and traveling in the UK. Welcome to the real world.

    • True, I was grilled extensively by a UK customs official the last time I took the chunnel train from Paris to London. And the German customs official berated me because other countries' customs agents had stamped my passport in an unorderly fashion (of course).

  • Do your part (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dnaumov ( 453672 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @08:39PM (#44734415)

    and don't visit countries that abuse visitors, unless you absolutely have to. Back when I was 15, I dreamt of moving to America, the land of opportunity and individual freedoms. By age 24-25, I no longer had the rose-tinted glasses. Now at 30 I am no longer even interested in coming for a visit.

    • Back when I was 15, I dreamt of moving to America, the land of opportunity and individual freedoms.

      the good news is that if you live in a certain lucky country, we will be coming to you!

      on a serious note: i hope things get better... and that our politicians stop posting crotch shots.

    • You do realize there are about 1,500,000,000 border crossings into the US per year, and about 7000 of these search events, right?

      I'll let you figure out the likelihood of getting harassed.

  • 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 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.
  • This will surely help tourism. I put USA on my list of not-safe-to-visit list after the 9/11 false-flag military operation in 2001. My sister asked me if I wanted to join her on vacation to the US a few years back. She's one of those people who never understood 9/11. Now even she refuses to visit that country.
  • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter&tedata,net,eg> 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.

  • Yes, it's bad that this is happening at US borders. But it's happening everywhere else too, so why this obsession with the US?

    • by _merlin ( 160982 ) on Monday September 02, 2013 @02:21AM (#44736339) Homepage Journal
      • It isn't happening on anywhere near the same scale elsewhere. The US has well and truly taken it to the next level. Saying it happens everywhere might make you feel better, but it doesn't make it true.
      • Didn't your parents teach you that, "He's doing it too!" isn't a valid excuse. If I shot and killed someone and tried to use the excuse that other people do it too, should I expect people to let me off?
      • Slashdot is a US site with a large US audience. US issues matter to the readers. Also, as Michael Jackson said, you have to start with the man in the mirror. Change starts at home.
      • If you want to criticise others, take the moral high ground, be seen as a human rights leader, and call yourself the land of the free, you need to do more than talk. You need to actually put these principles into practice. Right now you look like phenomenal hypocrites.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday September 01, 2013 @11:18PM (#44735409) Journal

    They sell 32gb USB drives that are about the size of a US quarter. They look like those tiny bluetooth receivers that you plug into your laptop.

    It can easily be hidden to pass any primary and secondary search. If they're going to do anything more thorough, you probably have bigger problems than the data you're carrying.

    If you're really determined, the trick of creating a vanilla sector to hide the real sector is well known. So even if they find it, all they get is love letters to your girlfriend which can make it look like you're hiding the fact that you're cheating on your wife, who is in on the gag.

    I've crossed a lot of borders in my life, and the people who man those crossings are of a certain type. Not hard to deal with if you give them something small to find. They are human and have human limitations.

    If you're an international criminal or trying to do something bad, guess what? You're human too and likely to fuck up. Too bad, so sad. If you are not those things, you have a very good chance of maintaining your privacy with a little bit of forethought.

    We still have a window of opportunity to roll this police state insanity back. It's really important that we don't give in to it, even if you believe you have "nothing to hide". Shit, hide it anyway. Even if it only keeps you feeling free, it's worthwhile. If you don't feel that little bit of personal inviolability, it's going to be hard to fight the larger battles to stop this insanity. Remember, the people you encounter at those borders also have families, lives, they know well how insane it all is. Don't be a jerk, but don't give in. The worst thing you can do is say, "I don't care because I've got nothing to hide". If that's what's in your head, you are already defeated and of no use to a free people.

    Having said that, if your case gets escalated up the chain to the point where you start to meet the "True Believers", you're fucked. At this point, an average person encrypting data or refusing to use email or even encrypting your regular communications (it's not hard at all), is not yet enough to get you escalated. God help us if it gets to that point.

  • I have an encrypted loop back file that auto-mounts upon log in, requesting first the account password via getty, then the disk password in .bashrc

    Interesting thing to note kids:

    Never use mass transit without pulling out your "Sunday go to meetin'" laptop. You know the one I mean.
    The one that, first thing you do, is to DOD wipe the drive (Thanks DBAN!), then load the OS (Linux, of course.)

    If you mount a drive over a directory that already has files in it, you can't see the files in the original directory.
    So, in my encrypted directory, I have many many files of Porn that I bought the files. Carefully recorded in an invoice.txt file in the directory
    along with the bank account .pdf showing the credit card transaction, banal stuff like my tax returns, the in box for the email address I hand out when I -know- they are going to spam me, browser history when I don't care when someone sees what I'm browsing, megabytes of files created by /dev/urandom and dd. That sort of thing. If I'm asked about the "gibberish" /dev/urandom files, I tell 'em the truth. They are there to confuse people that somehow get access to my system. They are completely worthless, and in fact, can be deleted. Here, let me delete them for you just to prove the point. Oh, you don't want me to? OK. But really, it's just
    gibberish. Nothing to see. Honest Injun!

    On the base directory, I used to have my "real" files. Now I do something far sexier than that dodge. I used to just not give the loop back encrypted drive
    a password, it would fail to mount, and I'd have my real files.

    The key takeaway here is "Give 'em something to titillate them while at the same time hiding your real private files. Sensitive files belong in a encrypted cloud drop box outside of ANZAC treaty partners. Remember to delete history on that kiddos. Not ALL history, just that which shows you accessed a drop box."

    I have to wonder though. Why am I more afraid of my own government than I am of "terrorists"?
    I don't want to hurt anyone, and I don't have a "statement" to make that requires more than a few harsh words to select people behaving badly.

    The below has been my tag line almost since I opened a Slashdot account. Sad to say, it's more true now than it ever was before.

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".