Blog / Travel Plans

In addition to being subject to a physical inspection, border officials can ask for user credentials to inspect your electronic devices.  If you give it to them, they have the right by implied consent to look at anything on the device. If you don’t give it to them, then you can expect lengthy delays and further scrutiny, including seizing the device.  They do have a tremendous power of intimidation.

She also said that if they ask for the password, chances are they have a reason and are going to use it. Most of us have nothing to hide, but it’s unnerving to think of what might be there and be subject to question.  How about:

  • Your exact movements of the past few weeks – courtesy of your Google-saved GPS.
  • Your history of purchases – courtesy of your online accounts and digital wallets.
  • Your social media activities thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
  • Your browsing history
  • Your text messages
  • Your Skype calls
  • Your contacts
  • Your photos
  • Your Email

In fact, you might be more comfortable with them pawing through your suitcase instead.

This gets very messy when the laptop or phone is not your own, but a corporate device.  You can potentially be opening up your whole corporate database by giving up the password.  Are you ready to make that judgement call at the airport without advice from your boss? I’m willing to bet that most corporate Policies-and-Procedures guides make no mention of this possibility.

She suggested a work-around – especially for phones: backup your phone to the cloud, wipe it to factory standard, cross the border with the blank phone, and then re-load the phone from the backup.  The same procedure could be used for a tablet or laptop, but there are serious risks, especially if the Internet where you are traveling to is poor.  And it could be time-consuming.  Of course, you would have to reverse the procedure when traveling back across the border.

There is another problem with this technique; by saving the backup to the cloud – for even a short period of time, you are committing the backup to be replicated across multiple cloud servers.  Even after you delete it from the cloud, it’s still there.

She offered one other work-around: leave your phone at home and purchase a prepaid phone at your travel destination.  When you get ready to leave, you dispose of the temporary phone.  This might work, but it would leave you without some of your most-used applications and data.

I think I need to show up at the airport about 6 hours in advance.  It could be a long flight.

And related to that, my Email and remote-work capabilities will be severely limited in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, so I most likely will be offline until mid-to-late March. I’ll return with tales of bird-eating spiders and moths the size of dinner plates – according to Wikipedia anyway …