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The Government Is Getting Grabby With Hard Drives At US Borders

August 31, 2009 at 9:24 AM | by | ()

Will you be crossing any US borders anytime soon, and are you planning to bring along your laptop and digital camera? If you get stopped for a random search at the border, be prepared to fork over your hard drives to the Department of Homeland Security.

Don't worry; they aren't interested in the naughty hotel room pictures you took or the screenplay you're writing about a mysterious murder on a cruise ship, unless your pictures contain child pornography and your screenplay has North Korean missile launch codes. What they're really after is the good old, run-of-the-mill terrorist and smuggling information.

Although such seizures of data storage devices are rare—think only 1,000 out of the last 221 million border crossings—the Department of Homeland Security has just maintained that such tech searches will continue happening and that processing time for any seized hard drive (including laptops, digital cameras, iPods, flash drives, etc) will be up to thirty days and that "travelers will stay informed about the search's progress."

An opinion piece in the LA Times expresses concern for the power of federal agents at the border to pry into the contents of our computers at their discretion:

The most distressing thing about the DHS asserting unfettered power to search laptops is the sense that you can't keep anything secret from the prying eyes of the government. The directives made it clear that travelers can't exclude any type of information from a search—not trade secrets, not contract negotiations, not even communications with their doctors or lawyers.

Perhaps if Bernie Madoff had been searched thus, his Ponzi scheme would be found out earlier?

What you can do: In any case, what you should take away from this is the motivation to backup your data before traveling internationally, and utilize programs that keep you data private, such as Google Docs and free web-based file sending sits like YouSendIt. And it's probably best to scrub your hard drive clean of pictures of your Osama Bin-Laden halloween costume.

Have any other recommendations for keeping your private files private? Drop them in the comments!

Related Stories:
· DHS Clarifies Laptop Border Crossing Rules: What You Need To Know [PC World]
· Taking an International Trip? Scrub Those Hard Drives! [LA Times]
· DHS Clarifies Laptop Border Searches [InformationWeek]
· Travel News Coverage [Jaunted]

[Photo: Jaunted]

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