Your Laptop and the Border


A Washington Post article this morning confirms what many have long suspected: your information has pretty much no rights when it comes to entering the United States. Specifically, if you’re crossing the border (whether you’re a US citizen or not):

  • Federal agents can seize your laptop, cell phone, iPod, videotape, books, or even the random receipts in your wallet.
  • They don’t need any suspicion of wrongdoing to do this.
  • They can share the seized information with other agencies or private companies.
  • If it turns out there’s nothing suspicious, they eventually have to destroy their copies of the seized information, but they can keep any notes they took about it.

I’d like to offer good advice for travelers entering the US here, but it’s not clear there is any. This looks like a good argument for simply keeping all of your data in the cloud, and leaving the hardware at home.


Mr. Crash

the majority of customs officials in the states are jumped up rentacops.

Not the kind of people I want trolling through my email, my business data or my personal affects.

Asia and Europe must love the increased tourism.

Jon Moss

I love going to the US. I have some great friends there and some great memories.

What I do hate is the US customs people or whatever they’re called. Rude, arrogant, uncaring and downright aggressive.

My worst experience was having my brand new MBP slammed down on a metal surface without any care or respect. A complaint to the neanderthal’s boss resulted in a torrent of abuse and zero customer service.

I loathe going through US customs – it makes coming back to the UK a real pleasure.

I agree with NikLP – a very bitter taste is left in my mouth.


If you read the TrueCrypt documentation thoroughly, you’ll note well that they provide ample information on plausible deniability. This is a perfect example of when this technique should be employed, especially if you’re up to no good! ;)

This is unfortunately also a classic example of the US taking things “one step too far”, yet again. Quite a few of the more recent items of North American legislation have left me with quite the unpleasant taste in my mouth. Hard to describe… kind of tangy… bitter… parfum de fascism, perhaps?


tiffany, they just take you in a silent room and “ask friendly” for the password.

The only way to go is to leave your notebook at hom eif travelling into unfree countries like China or the USA.


It is really nice to hear that 2 people had no trouble however the problem remains that some people do. That means everybody must assume that it could happen to them.

Apart from practical issues and the inconvenience this poses I am much more concerned how this infringes on some very basic rights to privacy (and probably many others, too). “They don’t need any suspicion of wrongdoing to do this.” – so they can arbitrarily decide to harass you without justification and no way for you to appeal.

It really is not so much you information that has no rights at that point.. it is you.


For privacy’s sake, I’d suggest encrypting some or all of your hard disk data using TrueCrypt or a similar software package. At least this way, if your hardware *is* confiscated, you can protect some of your data.


We just returned from Canada and didn’t have any problems. If you enter the US or CAN at Interstate, they are more strict.


I recently traveled abroad with a laptop, and had no issues clearing security or customs at airports on either end.

But i was a little worried because i’ve heard stories about this.

As far as advice, i didn’t bring any crucial or irreplaceable data on the laptop to begin with. I burned backup discs of all the photos i took, which i packed in separate luggage when returning.

The only real hassle i encountered was a guy at customs in LAX that saw i had my camera out while i was in line. He told me i couldn’t take pictures in the customs area and i’d have to delete them if i did.

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