There has been much in the press the last few days with regards to the “ability” of a border agent, regardless as to hat side of the border they are on, to inspect a travellers phone, tablet and computer. Also are you required to provide your passwords to same and your email, social media and other accounts. The issue gained attention recently after at least three travellers, including a Canadian journalist, spoke out publicly about their experiences.
The short answer is YES THEY CAN! according to The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada “Travellers at Canadian airports and U.S. border crossings are subject to close scrutiny and several layers of security measures.” and “Under Canada’s Customs Act, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have widespread powers to stop and search people, and examine their baggage and other possessions and devices at any Canadian port of entry (land border crossing, air terminal or sea port).” finally “If your laptop or mobile device is searched, you will likely be asked to provide the password.Officers may only examine what is stored within a device, which includes, for example, photos, files, downloaded e-mails and other media. If you refuse to provide your password, your device may be held for further inspection.”
A senior (US) Border Protection official briefed reporters on the issue Friday, but the agency insisted the official not be identified. “We see it as an article that is brought into the U.S., no different than a booklet of materials, no different than a suitcase with items in it,” the official said.
So if you don’t want any of your data getting into the hands of agents at the border what should you do? East Answer is don’t take your electronic devices with you when you travel or delete anything that you may “believe” would be an issue before travelling. If these are not practical, for whatever reason then consider the following…
Hark back at the agents quote “We see it as an article that is brought into the U.S., no different than a booklet of materials, no different than a suitcase with items in it,” In the old days you really had few options; store information on your device or on a removable media like a floppy disk. Today you do not need to store/save information, pictures, files and whatever on your device or on removable media that travels with you. There are multiple, low cost, storage options available from companies like Dropbox, Apple, Microsoft and a myriad of others. Don’t trust any of these then consider your own “cloud” server, a network attached server or hard drive, that can reside at your own company, house or wherever. If information is stored in one of these options you are not “bringing it in with you” it is effectively already at your destination whether that be your home country or your destination.
On iPhones and iPads for example you could delete your installed social media applications like Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and others. Archive your emails to the cloud then delete all email accounts. Clear out all message threads and delete browser histories. Basically now all you are traveling with is a phone. Use web based email while on the road. When you return home or reach your destination Apps, files, pictures etc. can easily be retrieved from the cloud, server or drive.
The bottom line is if you would be embarrassed having someone look in your suitcase and finding something then treat your phone, tablet and computer the same way. Unless you are going to some third-world country where they don’t have internet you can retrieve any information you need or want from the cloud.