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Taking your laptop into the US?

Serious implications for ill-prepared transportation personnel and truckers crossing into the US have now become a reality. Canadian truckers and transportation professionals -people familiar with bri...


Serious implications for ill-prepared transportation personnel and truckers crossing into the US have now become a reality. Canadian truckers and transportation professionals -people familiar with bringing their personal electronic devices, including laptops, on trips to the United States -need to be familiar with a new US Customs practice that has recently been upheld by a US court.

US border agents can not only search your laptop and download its entire contents, but also keep possession for several days. Although no rules have yet been published, this new procedure follows in the steps of British Customs, which search laptops for pornography.

Furthermore, there are growing reports of other countries following suit.

You might not like it, but it’s a new fact of business life.

Now that you’ve had another cup of black coffee to absorb the shock, the question begs: how can I protect myself?

Although you may argue with the US agent that data protection law is more than a legal right, and you have encrypted your entire hard drive -something you should certainly do for security in case your computer is lost or stolen -this protest won’t work here. The border agent is likely to begin this whole procedure with a “please type in your password.” Of course you can refuse, but the agent can certainly ruin your day by searching you further, keeping you longer, and even, pray not, refusing your entry into the country.

You’re going to have to hide your data. Set a portion of your hard drive to be encrypted with a different key -even if you also encrypt your entire hard drive -and keep your sensitive data there. Lots of programs allow you to do this. Experts suggest PGP Disk (from pgp.com). TrueCrypt (truecrypt.org) is also good -and free.

It’s always wise to choose a strong encryption password. Don’t employ passwords that are too easy to remember. This isn’t a perfect solution because your computer might have left a copy of the password on the disk somewhere, and smart forensic software will find it.

What is you your best defence? Simply clean up your laptop.

A Customs agent can’t read what you don’t have. Do you really need five years worth of e-mail and client data? Delete everything you don’t absolutely need by using a secure file erasure program to do it.

Moreover, delete your browser’s cookies, cache and browsing history. It’s nobody’s business what Web sites you’ve visited. And turning your computer off before you go through Customs -don’t just put it to sleep -deletes other things.

Some companies now give their employees forensically clean laptops for travel and have them download any sensitive data over a virtual private network once they’ve entered the country. They send any work back the same way, and delete everything again before crossing the border to go home. Experts say that this is a good idea if you can do it.

Finally, don’t forget your phone and PDA. Customs agents can search those too: e-mails, your phone book, your calendar. Regrettably, there’s nothing you can do here except delete things.

Yes, you could decide to take your chances and hope you don’t get searched. Today, the odds are in your favour. But new forensic tools are making automatic searches easier and easier, and the recent US court ruling is likely to embolden other countries. It’s better to be safe than sorry.


Truck News

Truck News

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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