Schneier on US Customs Notebook Searches: Do not follow the rules

I just read this article by Bruce Schneier on what to do about US Customs searches: Taking your laptop into the US? Be sure to hide all your data first

So, if you look at part of his recommendations, they are:

  • 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.
  • […]consider putting your sensitive data on a USB drive or even a camera memory card: even 16GB cards are reasonably priced these days. Encrypt it, of course, because it's easy to lose something that small. Slip it in your pocket, and it's likely to remain unnoticed even if the customs agent pokes through your laptop. If someone does discover it, you can try saying: "I don't know what's on there. My boss told me to give it to the head of the New York office." If you've chosen a strong encryption password, you won't care if he confiscates it.

So, if you look at the two recommendations above, he actually tells you to lie at the customs control and try to hide data away from the officials… So, he suggests that you are committing a crime. Pretty risky game, isn't it.

Well, to be fair: He gives another advice as well, which is using a forensically clean notebook and download the data from you corporate network once you crossed the border. This is a legal and safe practice.

Do not get me wrong: I do not like the rules of the US customs at all – not that they are alone, other countries do the same – as they simply are not on the standard for a developed country with a sound legal system. I do not have a problem if they search a notebook based on a court ruling with reasonable suspicion. But to do it just because the officer at customs had a bad night and does not feel well is not up to the standard the US measures the rest of the world.

This is no reason however, to become commit a criminal activity.


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