Skip to main content

Protect Yourself from Intrusive Laptop and Phone Searches at the U.S. Border

December 20, 2011

Protect Yourself from Intrusive Laptop and Phone Searches at the U.S. Border

EFF's New Guide Helps Travelers Defend Their Data Privacy

San Francisco - Anytime you travel internationally, you risk a broad, invasive search of your laptop, phone, and other digital devices – including the copying of your data and seizing of your property for an indefinite time. To help travelers protect themselves and their private information during the busy holiday travel period, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a new report today with important guidance for safeguarding your personal data at the U.S border.

Thanks to protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the government generally can't snoop through your laptop for no reason. But the federal government claims those privacy protections don't cover travelers at the U.S. border, allowing agents to take an electronic device, search through all the files, and keep it for further scrutiny – without any suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever. For business travelers, that could expose sensitive information like trade secrets, doctor-patient and attorney-client communications, and research and business strategies. For others, the data at risk includes personal health histories, financial records, and private messages and photos of family and friends. EFF's new report, "Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices," outlines potential ways to protect that private information, including minimizing the data you carry with you and employing encryption.

"Different people need different kinds of precautions for protecting their personal information when they travel," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen. "Our guide helps you assess your personal risks and concerns, and makes recommendations for various scenarios. If you are traveling over the U.S. border soon, you should read our guide now and get started on taking precautions before your trip."

Over the past few years, Congress has weighed several bills to protect travelers from suspicionless searches at the border, but none has had enough support to become law. You can join EFF in calling on the Department of Homeland Security to publish clear guidelines for what they do with sensitive traveler information collected in digital searches by signing our petition. You can also test your knowledge about travelers' privacy rights and help spread the word about the risks by taking our border privacy quiz.

"We store detailed records of our lives on our laptops and our phones. But the courts have diminished our constitutional right to privacy at the border," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "It's time for travelers to take action and protect themselves and their private information during international trips."

For Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices:
https://www.eff.org/wp/defending-privacy-us-border-guide-travelers-carrying-digital-devices

To take the border privacy quiz:
https://www.eff.org/pages/border-search-quiz

To sign the petition
https://action.eff.org/o/9042/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=8341

Contacts:

Marcia Hofmann
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   marcia@eff.org

Seth Schoen
   Senior Staff Technologist
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   seth@eff.org

JavaScript license information