Preparing for a U.S. Border Crossing

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If you’re planning
to leave – and especially to enter – the United States, you
need to take several precautions before you do so.

That’s because
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents can seize and copy the contents
of any electronic device you carry across a U.S. border. That includes
your laptop, your cell phone, your USB flash drives, your digital
camera, etc. Agents don’t need probable cause or even reasonable
suspicion to conduct a search of your electronic data – just
"gimme." They can copy the data for investigative purposes
and then use that information against you in a subsequent criminal
case.

Fortunately,
such searches are relatively rare. For instance, logs from the Department
of Homeland Security show that agents searched 1,000 laptops between
October 2008 and August 2009. Only 46 of these searches were "in-depth."
From these searches, five travelers were found to have "illicit
information" on their laptops. During this nine-month period,
221 million travelers came through U.S. ports of entry.

Since the odds
are low you’ll be targeted for a search, you may be tempted to run
the CBP gauntlet without taking precautions to protect your data.
That would be a mistake, particularly if your laptop or other electronic
device contains any information that you’d prefer not to share.

For instance,
if you’re an attorney, your laptop may contain information subject
to attorney-client privilege. If it does…well, too bad. According
to published CBP guidance, "a claim of privilege …does
not prevent the search of a traveler’s information at the border."
Or perhaps your smartphone contains trade secrets or other data
you’d rather not share with the U.S. government. But when you carry
it across a U.S. border, you’ve given the government permission
to review that data and retain it indefinitely.

The real problem,
of course, is that now this policy is in place, it could be greatly
expanded. Of course, this would be impractical without massive increases
in CBP’s budget – but another 9/11-type attack might be all
that’s needed to spur Congress into action.

To avoid a
border inquisition, the best precaution is not to carry any electronic
devices across a U.S. border. For most people, this isn’t practical,
so the next-best strategy is to carry only "sanitized"
devices.

For instance,
you could purchase an inexpensive laptop and use only for international
travel. Keep nothing on it except for the operating system and program
files. Before you cross the border, "sanitize" it using
a program such as Window Washer.
When you return to the United States, securely "wipe"
any confidential information off your hard drive, along with the
"free space," using a program like PGP
Desktop
.

Back up your
data to an online backup site such as Carbonite.
Encrypt the data before uploading it, using a product such as PGP
Desktop or True-Crypt.

Buy an "unlocked"
tri-band cell phone with a replaceable SIM card for international
travel. When you arrive in a new country, purchase a domestic SIM
card from a local phone dealer. This not only protects your privacy
at the border, but also eliminates roaming charges.

If you must
carry sensitive data across the border, encrypt whatever device
containing that data. However, CBP officials may demand that you
decrypt any encrypted files before you proceed. Refuse, and you
might be detained until you agree to decrypt the device for inspection.
If you’re a foreign national, you might be turned away and informed
that you won’t be permitted to re-enter the United States. (One
possible solution: True-Crypt lets you type in a special access
code that provides access only to part of your hard drive. The remainder
of your data remains protected in a hidden hard disk partition.)

Blackberries
and other smartphones come with built-in encryption. However, many
smartphone encryption systems have significant weaknesses. A better
solution (unfortunately only for Windows mobile smartphones) may
be PGP Mobile.

The CBP believes
these rules are necessary to investigate terrorism, child pornography,
etc., but I’m not so sure. For instance, if you were a terrorist,
would you really bring your laptop across the border with your plans
to blow up the White House? No, you’d simply e-mail yourself the
plans to blow up, poison, or incinerate whatever you wish to target.
As with most anti-terrorism initiatives, this one does little or
nothing to fight terrorists. It merely inconveniences law-abiding
travelers.

Welcome to
the United States!

October
2, 2010

Mark Nestmann is a journalist with more than 20
years of investigative experience and is a charter member of The
Sovereign Society's Council of Experts. He has authored over a dozen
books and many additional reports on wealth preservation, privacy
and offshore investing. Mark serves as president of his own international
consulting firm, The Nestmann Group, Ltd. The Nestmann Group provides
international wealth preservation services for high-net worth individuals.
Mark is an Associate Member of the American Bar Association (member
of subcommittee on Foreign Activities of U.S. Taxpayers, Committee
on Taxation) and member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
In 2005, he was awarded a Masters of Laws (LL.M) degree in international
tax law at the Vienna (Austria) University of Economics and Business
Administration.

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