The Washington Post reports:
…a tech engineer returning from a business trip to London objected when a federal agent asked him to type his password into his laptop computer. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he remembers protesting. “It belongs to my company.” Eventually, he agreed to log on and stood by as the officer copied the Web sites he had visited, said the engineer, a U.S. citizen who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of calling attention to himself.
Do you see why I’d be in a bit of a quandary if my employer wanted me to visit our office in the United States? Record my name, look me up, check my paperwork, search my stuff, but you do not get to copy all my data simply because you want to. If your law says you can, I say you can’t. Refuse me entry into your country if you must.
If I were to travel outside the country, the data partition of my laptop would be encrypted (thank you, Truecrypt) and I would not reveal the password. Heck, if configured correctly, the encrypted partition isn’t even visible before being unlocked so there’s no reason to press me for a password. And don’t get in my face asking me what I’ve got to hide. Having a boarding pass doesn’t give you just cause.
The article tells the story of Maria Udy, a British citizen and an executive with a global travel management firm. She was about to board a flight to London when a border security agent basically gave her “the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight.” She surrendered the laptop with the promise of it being returned to her in 10 or 15 days. A year later, she has neither the laptop nor an explanation.
Some companies are insisting that employees travelling abroad carry no company information on their laptops. Instead, secure remote access allows them to access all the information they need directly from company servers. No sensitive data can be copied because there is no sensitive data on the laptop. That’s got to stick in the craw of the border security agents. It also makes me question why they bother when data can be sent more easily over the Internet with far less chance of interception.
In a child pornography case being heard in San Francisco, the U.S. government claims:
It should not matter … whether documents and pictures are kept in ‘hard copy’ form in an executive’s briefcase or stored digitally in a computer. The authority of customs officials to search the former should extend equally to searches of the latter
Although I consider even this excessively invasive, the government is being utterly disingenuous. ‘Search’ isn’t a synonym for ‘copy everything.’
You want to have a look? Fine, if you must. You want to copy everything? I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to kindly go fuck yourself.