Crossing Borders with your Laptop

The fact that agents can search your computer when you cross international borders presents special problems for attorneys, given that our computers likely contain information we are ethically bound to keep confidential. If you are considering international travel with your laptop, I recommend that you check out Bruce Schneier’s column on crossing boarders with your laptop.

Bruce’s advice for your best defense:

So your best defence is to clean up your laptop. A customs agent can’t read what you don’t have. You don’t need five years’ worth of email and client data. You don’t need your old love letters and those photos (you know the ones I’m talking about). Delete everything you don’t absolutely need. And use a secure file erasure program to do it. While you’re at it, delete your browser’s cookies, cache and browsing history. It’s nobody’s business what websites you’ve visited. And turn your computer off – don’t just put it to sleep – before you go through customs; that deletes other things. Think of all this as the last thing to do before you stow your electronic devices for landing. 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. This is a good idea if you can do it.

I urge you to check out his entire post. Also remember that they can search your phone/PDA in the same way that they can search your laptop.

One thought on “Crossing Borders with your Laptop

  1. A couple years ago I probably wouldn’t have put much weight in this advice, but on my last trip overseas I had my laptop POWER CORD taken away at customs as it was a “suspicious device”!

    I do agree with the overall theme of your quote (from Bruce Schneier): they “can’t read what you don’t have”.

    I might suggest though that never having it on the laptop that you’re traveling with in the first place would be a great deal easier than painstakingly cleaning your machine each time you plan a trip. Maybe you can utilize online tools to hold your email and confidential data (shameless self promotion:

    Also, although I agree with many of his points, I don’t know if I’d try to pull off this line: “I don’t know what’s on there. My boss told me to give it to the head of the New York office.” Sounds like you’re asking for it to be searched to me.

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