October 18, 2019 by freemexy
Digital security for travellers
And while officials can't force you to give them access to a device, according to Daniel Victor of The New York Times, "they can ask you to comply voluntarily and make the experience rather uncomfortable if you resist. Travellers must decide how much trouble they're willing to put up with."
Victor's article notes recent cases where travellers who refused to grant customs officers access to their devices were detained and questioned for hours, had their devices seized, or were refused entry into the US.
Back home, Australia's Border Force has broad powers to search "goods", and the definition of goods includes electronic devices such as computers and smartphones.
According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection web page on baggage examination and questioning, officers can confiscate electronic devices to perform a forensic search on the device "for up to 14 days", so long as they're "satisfied that the [device] may contain information relevant to prohibited goods, an offence against the Customs Act or a prescribed Act, or to certain security matters".
It's hard to say how often these types of data searches are happening, when only the headline-worthy instances make the news. Chris Christensen hosts the Amateur Traveller podcast, and has been giving advice to frequent flyers since 2005. He points to simple anecdotal evidence to assure travellers that these types of searches are rare.
"If you think people at the border are routinely taking the time to go through people's devices then you have not waited in immigration lines much," he says. "While there have been news stories about this, from what I can tell it is pretty unlikely. It just doesn't scale. They are trying to clear a whole 747 through customs, not just you."
In my own experience, I've taken 16 international trips over the past three years, and have been asked by border officials to power on and sign in to my laptop three times. Each time was at a United States airport - twice in LAX, and once in San Francisco. But in these instances, the border officials didn't care about the data on my devices, they simply wanted me to prove my laptop was not an explosive device designed to look like a laptop.
Security expert Patrick Gray, host of the Risky Business podcast, is blunt with his advice: "Don't take any data across an international border you don't want the governments of either country to see. Most countries can look at your data when you're crossing a border and they don't even need a reason to demand access. Even if your data is encrypted, many countries have legal powers that can compel travellers to decrypt their data so the government can inspect it. There are penalties if you refuse."
Technology journalist Tom Merritt, host of the Daily Tech News Show, agrees. "Move any sensitive data to a cloud service and delete the app that accesses the cloud service before you cross the border. You can reinstall it on the other side if you need to retrieve your data. Do not try to hide data in a hidden volume or some such method, since if this is detected it can raise suspicions. Worry more about what is on the device than how to get into it as most custom agents can compel you to unlock a device."
Merritt adds: "All my advice is aimed towards someone who wants to be extra careful. Generally, most people do not have to worry even when travelling across borders."
Traveller tip: Don't just lock your sensitive data, leave it off the device.
A VPN will send network traffic from your device through a secure, protected 'tunnel' so that no one else on the Wi-Fi network can sniff your traffic, or capture the login details of the websites you visit.
Your best bet is to get a personal VPN account. It's probably a good idea to avoid free VPN
iPhones and modern Android devices will ask you if you "trust" the USB outlet when you connect. If you say no, the USB port should only act as a charger, with data blocked, but there's no guarantee.