Insecure Borders


You might not be worried about your privacy being exploited by network operators, but how about if the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) decided to search your laptop, iPod and mobile phone as you went through airport security?

A frightening story about this exact circumstance comes to us today from the Washington Post, and it’s prompting some employers that I’ve just spoken with to urge their employees to wipe the laptop hard drives before going on business trips to prevent company confidential information from being leaked.

Seems to me that bringing along a laptop with a wiped hard drive on a business trip makes as much sense as packing five pounds of bricks. Are you concerned about this break of privacy by the government? And how are you going to react when a CBP agent asks you to show them your browser history and the photos on your iPod?



Yes Allan, weeks. It’s odd, after it happened to me, I started to ask around, and it turns out this is relatively quite common, except that most people (myself included) are too worried to make a big issue of it.

Allan Leinwand

@M – They took your laptop for weeks?!?!

@Cranky: Did you have to explain to them what a laptop was too?!? That sounds like a crazy and unfortunate experience – thanks for commenting.

Cranky Canuck

Believe it or not, this happened to me 3 years ago in my own country. I was leaving Calgary, going to the US and I had to go through customs at the airport.

I was asked to follow a member of Homeland security, where they have their own x-ray equipment. The agent went through all my luggage, and dive gear and then took me to a “interview room”.

They ordered me to turn on my laptop and then they went through the system and it’s contents. When they asked me about some of the applications that is when they got crazy on me.
I have applications for working with Cisco Routers and Switches and Sniffers. Most all high end applications.

I also had technical diving software on the notebook that I use to compute gasses and mixes for allowable dive times and depths.

After a half hour of explaining what each application did, I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to make my flight.

The agent shut down my laptop and left me to sit in a room for about 10 mins. Two of them came back and informed me that until I had an FBI clearance completed I would not be allowed in the US.

I have no criminal record at all. I have been working around the world and have security clearances in 5 countries.

I was then finger printed and my photo taken and then shown to the door.


It’s good to see writing on this. My laptop was searched, and actually detained for further study, several weeks ago when I landed in SFO. Since I had nothing to hide, they did return it to me a couple of weeks later, but nonetheless, it should not have been done.

Allan Leinwand

Darren – that’s a great idea. Unfortunately, since the government is monitoring the Internet they have already seen your comment (only half-kidding).


Classic. Maybe I’ll start keeping my important files on USB sticks tucked away in my 3oz carry-on liquid bottles. They never search those…

Marl Balou

As a US citizen, I have traveled extensively to countries in all continents and right now arriving and entering the US is the most burdensome – the lines are long, many airports are dilapidated and the demeanor of the ICE/CBP agents is not very welcoming. The default posture is to treat everyone like a potential terrorist or criminal.
It is one thing to search your suitcase that has physical goods but it is another to search thru your laptop/iPOD/Digital Camera – this is akin to rummaging thru your thoughts & memories (I have a hard time believing that this would be legal under the 4th amendment – but that is for the courts to decide).

Teymur Madjdrey

Very frigtening. Not that I have anything to hide, but this is going a step to far. I for sure wont be travelling to the US anymore for now. Lets see what happens. And I wanted to do a nice trip around Cali this year. :-/

Allan Leinwand

@Matt_: Yes – I was thinking that we all might be moving to Citrix and hosted desktops to avoid this issue.

@Peter: Orwell being 25 years off might seem like a rounding error in a decade of so….

Peter Childs

Every day it seem that we are giving up more and more of our privacy in the name of protecting our freedom.

Orwell missed the date but not the direction.


I can see more companies and users using hosted services and small terminal type computers like the Asus EEE .

I store alot of My data including music on hosted services like MP3Tunes and Google Apps .

Ive heard of people forwarding encrypted Hard drives via FED-EX to their destination before they travel on a plane

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