Protecting Your Privacy at the Border

Traveling with Digital Devices in the Golden Age of Surveillance

Kurt Opsahl and William Budington

Playlists: '34c3' videos starting here / audio / related events

Our lives are on our laptops – family photos, medical documents, banking information, details about what websites we visit, and so much more. Digital searches at national borders can reach our personal correspondence, health information, and financial records, allowing an affront to privacy and dignity which is inconsistent with the values of a free society. While privacy and security is important for any traveler, this has become a critical issue for international conferences and their attendees, who shouldn’t need to trade off an invasive search for participating in important conversations. This talk will discuss the both the legal and policy issues with border searches, as well as technological measures people can use in an effort to protect their data.

This talk will begin with an overview of the legal and policy issues surrounding border crossings, where many countries will conduct more invasive searches than their constitutions would otherwise allow. The discussion will include examples of countries that can require you to enter passwords to decrypt data on your laptop and will examine your social media and cloud data, and provide advice on which countries may require more extensive precautions. This includes the challenges of entering the United States in the time of Trump, discussing the recent changes to policy for visitors entering the country, what your rights are as a visa holder, and details about EFF’s lawsuit to challenge the policy.

Turning to the practical, the talk will discuss techniques to help protect your data, from basic precautions like backups and externally stored data, to more advanced advice about encryption and password strategies, secure boot processes, as well as data hygiene - how to travel clean, and still have access to important information on the other side. This will cover what border agents are theoretically capable of doing to compromise devices, and what precautions you can take to secure your data before this interaction occurs. The discussion will include advice about laptops, mobile phones, flash drives, digital cameras, and other common digital data devices. While critical, technological protections are not enough, so we will also discuss the practicalities of interacting with border agents.

Finally, we will discuss what people can do to keep themselves informed, and stay active in the fight for a better future.

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