Evidence is increasingly surfacing to insinuate that border security personnel are making more invasive strides into our everyday activities. In 2018 alone, customs officers in the U.S. carried out over 33,000 device searches without a warrant—a staggering fourfold increase from 2015.
A recent deposition in a legal case led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union unveiled that agents “are claiming almost unrestrained power to inspect and confiscate travelers’ devices at the border.” The data obtained from these searches can be retained for an astonishing 75 years.
Even more disconcerting is the fact that border officials are also allowed to scan electronic gadgets to glean information about any individuals you might know, such as family or friends, or any contacts that a journalist or academic might have. Essentially, any person in your contact list is potentially on the line. Moreover, this egregious violation of privacy is not isolated to the U.S.
While advocacy organizations are vigorously working to end unjustified device searches and confiscations, you can take several proactive measures to safeguard your devices from border security potentially accessing confidential information.
1. Journey without your electronic gadgets
The most straightforward and secure method to circumvent a border search is to refrain from carrying your devices. However, while it might be refreshing to disconnect from your gadgets momentarily, it could potentially pose a significant inconvenience for those who depend on these devices to remain connected with the rest of the globe.
2. Invest in a disposable phone containing only essential data
Having a disposable phone or computer dedicated solely to traveling serves as another alternative to diminishing the volume of confidential information you carry along. Ideally, your gadgets should only contain what is crucial for your journey, without any extraneous details.
During the setup process of your disposable gadgets, ensure that no email accounts, social media applications, or personal photographs are stored on them. This way, if your device happens to get confiscated and scrutinized, there won’t be much of your personal information exposed.
3. Safeguard Sensitive Information by Leveraging Cloud Storage and Temporarily Deleting Apps
The encouraging news is that border patrol agents are prohibited from accessing travelers’ data stored online. Thus, if you’re unable or unwilling to invest in additional devices, a straightforward strategy to prevent data mining at the border involves transferring your information to cloud storage and erasing all data from your device. Exercise caution though: any data left behind is still vulnerable to scrutiny.
Social media and email accounts are especially simple to remove and restore. All it requires is signing back into your account once the app is reinstalled.
If cloud data storage isn’t feasible for you, you still have the option of plausible deniability regarding the data on your device. This can be achieved by creating hidden partitions or concealed operating systems that, when properly configured, can protect your data even from sophisticated forensic analysis.
4. Prioritize Disabling Biometric Data Security and Encrypting Your Devices
If you’re within the confines of the U.S., it’s crucial to know that border officers have the legal jurisdiction to insist you utilize your biometric security measures for them to inspect your devices. To ensure your privacy, it’s advisable to deactivate this feature and instead employ the use of complex passwords and encryption techniques.
It’s equally important to verify that your devices are fully disk-encrypted. For users of Android devices running on 6.0 or higher versions, rest assured that your device is encrypted by default – though you can confirm this through Settings > Security. For Apple aficionados, all iOS devices come with default encryption, providing an additional layer of security. MacOS laptops can further bolster their security with FileVault, and BitLocker serves the same purpose as Windows.
The Optimum Method to Prevent Your Data From Being Seized at Border Controls
Regrettably, the proposed solutions to this issue are not foolproof. The occurrence of unwarranted searches continues to escalate, leaving you with little control over border agents who have the authority to inspect your devices at their discretion.
The most effective strategy you can adopt is to bring with you as limited sensitive data as possible while crossing a border. It is also highly recommended to report any breach of your privacy to trustworthy organizations that advocate for such rights.
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