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Data Storage Privacy United States

Tips For Taking Your Laptop Into and Out of the US? 940

Posted by timothy
from the hug-a-tsa-agent-with-fervor-and-passion dept.
casualsax3 writes "I'm going to be taking a week long round trip from NYC to Puerto Vallarta Mexico sometime next month, and I was planning on taking my laptop with me. I'll probably want to rip a few movies and albums to the drive in order to keep busy on the flight. More important though, is that I'm also going to be taking pictures while I'm there, and storing them on the laptop. With everything in the news, I'm concerned that I'll have to show someone around the internals of my laptop coming back into the US. The pictures are potentially what upsets me the most, as I feel it's an incredible violation of my privacy. Do I actually need to worry about this? If so, should I go about hiding everything? I've heard good things about Truecrypt. Is it worth looking into or am I being overly paranoid?"
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Tips For Taking Your Laptop Into and Out of the US?

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  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:30PM (#25318803)

    ...encrypt it. Full disk encryption is relatively cheap, easy, and unobtrusive.

    You gave one such example in your post.

    But uh, mind if I ask: exactly what kind of pictures are you planning on taking on your vacation? ;-)

    • by vwjeff (709903) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:34PM (#25318877)
      Make sure you have a backup of the pictures before you enter the US. Secure online storage is cheap. You can refuse to give them the password but they can take your laptop for "analysis."
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:42PM (#25320171)
        Extending off of this idea, My solution for travel to the US was to remove the hard drive, leave it at home, and run my laptop off of an ubuntu livecd. Any data I wanted to keep was stored on SD cards purchased in the US.
        • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @05:18PM (#25320695) Homepage Journal

          Now that you've escaped, why bother tunneling your way back into the Stalag^H^H^H^H^H^H Soviet^H^H^H^H^H^H U.S.?

          • Seriously (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @05:27PM (#25320793) Homepage Journal

            Regular people, just doing ordinary legal business now need to worry about this?

            What the fuck is up?

            Doesn't this read more like an item that one would have expected to read - historically - by someone concerned about a visit to the Soviet Union, East Germany or Argentina? Looks like the Soviets didn't lose the cold war. There are just 1st and second runners-up, with both losers in a 15 year period, no? I mean, you fuckers used to have LAWS. You used to have a Constitutional validation of basic individual rights! But, I guess there are more important things to a nation, than the consent of the governed.

            In America, Soviet Union becomes YOU! You fucked up, America. And now you no longer exist in any meaningful context. The only single thing that defines you as a coherent entity within your borders is the way in which you are taxed - without representation.

            I don't know if I am angry or sad. But it is sad.

            • Re:Seriously (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Eternauta3k (680157) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @05:45PM (#25321031) Homepage Journal

              Doesn't this read more like an item that one would have expected to read - historically - by someone concerned about a visit to the Soviet Union, East Germany or Argentina?

              Regardless of the truth in that statement, I never heard of Argentina being used as an example of an intrusive country. The checks they do at customs are laughable.

              • Re:Seriously (Score:5, Informative)

                by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @08:21PM (#25322705) Journal

                because you didn't visit argentina during late 70s or early 80s when our neighbors (well, we too, and ALL the rest of south america) were under a ruthless dictatorship that used to load anyone they didn't like into C-130s and drop them in the midle of the ocean.

                BTW, that regime ? sponsored by the US, with CIA's planning. as were all the dictatorships in the continent.

    • by asdir (1195869) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:34PM (#25318887)

      According to briefing my boss gave me recently, Truecrypt would not help: If they really wanted to see your content they could ask you to show it to them or alternatively confiscate your laptop and decrypt it themselves. The latter would mean you would probably not see your laptop again.
      Let me tell you: As a European scientist I am even more frigthened now to go or even move to the US.

      • by LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:42PM (#25319037) Homepage

        Truecrypt would not help: If they really wanted to see your content they could ask you to show it to them or alternatively confiscate your laptop and decrypt it themselves.

        Truecrypt provides plausible deniability - the capability to create a hidden encrypted volume within another encrypted volume, thereby allowing you to grant access to unimportant/dummy data when a password is asked for without the attacker knowing additional information even exists.

        As for the US government just decrypting the colume themselves, as far as I know they simply don't have that capability. If your boss knows otherwise or has knowledge of ways to defeat Truecrypt's plausible deniability then (s)he should provide some kind of evidence to back that up, otherwise this just sounds like uninformed guesswork or pure tinfoil-hattery.

        • by MBGMorden (803437) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:49PM (#25319189)

          Truecrypt provides plausible deniability - the capability to create a hidden encrypted volume within another encrypted volume, thereby allowing you to grant access to unimportant/dummy data when a password is asked for without the attacker knowing additional information even exists.

          Well, there's that, and the fact that no file can be positively identified to be a Truecrypt volume. Until you you give a password it just appears to be random data. High entropy random data, but the guy at the border is looking for a 5 minutes spree tops - I seriously doubt he knows what entropy is let alone enough to check for it.

          If you're that worried create a volume with nearly same size as your system RAM, keep it in a directory with some source code (even write a stupid program that will crash if you want) and just name it "core" or "core.dumped". If asked about it tell them when you were testing your program (that does whatever you want to maekup) it crashed and dumped memory to file. It's probably just corrupted nonsense . . .

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            It is not a good idea to lie to border security. Wipe your laptop and install a plain Linux system so that you can show that the computer works. Encrypt your data and transfer it over the internet or by mail.

          • by nahdude812 (88157) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @05:30PM (#25320851) Homepage

            Actually it was recently demonstrated that you can positively identify a hidden volume exists within a TrueCrypt volume, defeating plausible deniability. In addition, it was also recently demonstrated [springerlink.com] that regardless of the encryption algorithm used, it's possible to get a silhouette of high contrast encrypted images.

            So if they really wanted, they could identify the hidden volume exists, then apply this second technique to identify that images exist on it. To border agents, this is probably tantamount to admitting on the spot that you're smuggling kiddy porn across the border, and you may find that it's more than your laptop which is detained.

            Your best protection is to transfer the images separately from your laptop. Store them on Amazon S3 with a tool such as JungleDisk, and download them when you get home (this is a good idea in case something damages your laptop while traveling too).

          • by nametaken (610866) on Friday October 10, 2008 @01:27AM (#25324521)

            You're absolutely right, it'd be downright trivial to confound any "homeland security" flunky. Those wretches couldn't find their own genitals with both hands and a flashlight.

            What bothers me is that we're even talking about this like we're troubleshooting a minor tech issue. Why the hell should we have to even think about this? How did we get a place where this is an issue to deal with?

            What comes next... they require us to install and run a government supplied application to scan the disk? I mean... that would be in our best interest, right? It'd shorten the lines and protect our children from terrorists at the same time? It's lightweight and unobtrusive, while protecting our freedom?

            This country has a horrible sickness, and no politician is going to cure it. I'm about as normal a guy as you'd ever meet... but something has to happen to wake us the F* up, and I afraid it'd have to be something terrible.

          • by LandruBek (792512) on Friday October 10, 2008 @01:27AM (#25324527)

            I seriously doubt he knows what entropy is . . .

            lol. Von Neumann advised Shannon to call his measure of information 'entropy' because, as he put it, "no one knows what entropy really is."

        • by martinw89 (1229324) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:51PM (#25319245)

          Yes, I was going to recommend plausible deniability as well.

          Here's a little more info about how it works. Basically, you set up a container and a hidden volume. Each has its own passphrase. To open the hidden volume, you use its passphrase when opening the container. To open the container with dummy data, you type its passphrase. It's very simple and quite hidden if done correctly. To be safe, it's best to access the hidden volume from a live CD so the OS doesn't break your deniability by storing temporary files or "recently accessed documents" etc.

          However, there is one big note of caution. Do not back up the container. Ever. An attacker could look at the change over time and determine there is a hidden volume. That's probably too paranoid for your case but it's worth mentioning.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by rvw (755107)

            However, there is one big note of caution. Do not back up the container. Ever. An attacker could look at the change over time and determine there is a hidden volume. That's probably too paranoid for your case but it's worth mentioning.

            You say an attacker could determine whether there is a hidden volume by comparing two versions of the file. How would they be able to do that? And does this mean they will be able to decypher the password?

        • by refactored (260886) <cyentNO@SPAMxnet.co.nz> on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:04PM (#25319525) Homepage Journal
          ...the trouble with any encryption is it sends a strong signal to the spooks... This guy is hiding something, put him through the works and see if anything leaks out.

          But I dare say you may be safe... after all, TrueCrypt has probably received a visit from No Such Agency.

          Google for crypto nsa backdoor [google.com]

          • by LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:31PM (#25319995) Homepage

            Well with Truecrypt at least it's open source so that should provide a good degree of protection against a backdoor in the software itself. There's still the possibility of a backdoor in the underlying encryption schemes of course which would be far beyond most people's ability to detect no matter how many people see it or how long they look. Truecrypt does however allow you to chain multiple encryption and hash algorithms which, given the diversity of their origins, should provide a reasonable degree of protection from backdoors.

        • by autophile (640621) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:24PM (#25319867)

          Truecrypt provides plausible deniability - the capability to create a hidden encrypted volume within another encrypted volume, thereby allowing you to grant access to unimportant/dummy data when a password is asked for without the attacker knowing additional information even exists.

          And that helps when they confiscate your laptop and "lose" it... how?

          Pictures: Store them on a high-capacity USB drive, SD card, or other small device. Hide it. That way, if they get your computer, they still won't get your pictures.

          Movies: Why I iPod ya? I think they're less likely to grab task-specific devices over computers. And they cost less.

          Either way, by bringing along a laptop, there will always be the risk they simply take it and lose it. No amount of data trickery can get around that.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            Those are some great suggestions.

            I've thought about this myself and if you don't mind getting your hands dirty you could take an SD card and loaded it up with Linux, and wire it in parallel with the hard drive. install a small switch under the battery or something that switches power from the hard drive to the SD card. Then when traveling set the switch to select the card... it will look like a clean Linux install.
        • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:25PM (#25319887) Homepage Journal

          Truecrypt provides plausible deniability - the capability to create a hidden encrypted volume within another encrypted volume, thereby allowing you to grant access to unimportant/dummy data when a password is asked for without the attacker knowing additional information even exists.

          To do this you need the TrueCrypt bootloader installed, which is a dead give-away that you probably have a hidden volume. If you don't and they suspect of being a terrorist sympathizer you'll just get thrown in Gitmo until you give up your secrets.

          TrueCrypt plausible deniability is useful against those who cannot employ deadly force against you.

          If you're really concerned, wipe the drive, install linux on a small partition, use an encrypted network connection to upload the photos, then secure wipe the drive and install Windows XP on it for your border crossing. Better yet, get a $50 used laptop and leave it with a local school.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CodeBuster (516420)

        confiscate your laptop and decrypt it themselves.

        They could confiscate the laptop, but as for decrypting it? Doubtful. A brute force attack on Rijndael (which is the default for TrueCrypt) is just not worth the effort assuming that it can even be done. As far as is publicly known Rijndael has not been broken via brute force attack and if the laptop is not in the "on" state when they confiscate it then they are looking at either brute force attack, rubber hose cryptanalysis, or forget it (i.e. you don't have your laptop anymore and they don't have your dat

        • by postbigbang (761081) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:16PM (#25319725)

          Such a plan is an invitation for disaster and confiscation. Don't think for a second that encryption isn't a red flag. And if they could decrypt (I believe for many reasons that there isn't such a thing as an unbreakable cypher) your data, why are you angry? Would they steal it? Put it up on a flickr site?

          Yes, the entire program is a total affront to both US Constitutional rights to reasonable search (this isn't), to privacy (yes, we need a real amendment) and just plain human dignity.

          If you have important data, drop it to a DVD. Put that in a separate place. Carry lots of them. Don't look like a terrorist or mad scientist as you go through customs and immigration. Then restore your data as needed. And feel free to make your computer bag as messy as you can.

          • by CodeBuster (516420) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:57PM (#25320413)

            I believe for many reasons that there isn't such a thing as an unbreakable cypher.

            Theoretically that is true, but the computational complexity (i.e. the number of operations required to solve the math problem) of modern crypto systems is such that rarely will an informed and determined adversary attempt to brute force the crypto system. In fact the number of operations and computing power required render the entire attempt hopeless, since the data cannot be recovered in this way within a single human lifetime (i.e. 120 years) even when the resources available to first world governments are taken into account. It is more likely, assuming that they have no qualms and are determined to get your data, that black bag [wikipedia.org] or rubber hose [wikipedia.org] techniques will employed instead. Basically, if the computer leaves your sight and possession (i.e. it is taken into the back room before being returned to you) then that particular computer can never be trusted again, which is why you should have a backup of your data somewhere else, preferably on a secure off-site server, before you begin your travels and regularly update it during your trip. As far as I know, from my background in Computer Science, modern cryptography provides security that it at least as good as any alternative method and most probably substantially superior to those alternatives. The mathematical and theoretical foundation of modern crypto is well understood and proven (the government also uses these same or similar crypto systems for their own data, so draw your own conclusions about the effectiveness of modern crypto systems).

            Don't think for a second that encryption isn't a red flag

            So what if it is? Do we surrender our rights under the Constitution because authoritarian elements within our government are treating us all as criminals and terrorists with something to hide? Shall we surrender to fear and give up our rights in response to terrorism or criminal activity and in exchange for what? The promise of those some government agents to protect us against the bad guys? No thanks, I will take my chances with my rights intact. A right not exercised is a right that does not exist except on paper. We should all encrypt all of our data in order to more effectively assert our collective rights against unwarranted search and seizure.

            And if they could decrypt...your data, why are you angry? Would they steal it? Put it up on a flickr site?

            It is the principle of the thing. The government in the US exists because of the consent of the people. Here in the United States, at least according to the Constitution, the individual citizen is sovereign and any powers not specifically granted to the government by the consent of the people are reserved to us the people. I would rather that everyone walk around armed to the teeth and encrypt all of their data then live in an authoritarian nanny state where big brother is watching.

            If you have important data, drop it to a DVD. Put that in a separate place. Carry lots of them.

            There are many ways around their schemes (some better than others) and that is one of them. The fact that determined and knowledgeable adversaries can slip through undetected makes this whole piece of security theater even worse. It only inconveniences and compromises those citizens and people who are not able to, by reason of ignorance or incompetence, protect their data (which almost certainly would not include anyone intent on doing real harm).

      • You're frightened because the Customs has always had the power to search persons and physical objects at the border without a warrant, or that someone actually thought it might be a good idea to extend the longstanding and repeatedly upheld border search exception [wikipedia.org] to include data on electronic devices [cbp.gov]? If it has always been acceptable (and repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court[1]) to search for anything else illegal at the border without a warrant, can someone make a good argument why data on one's person

        • by tlambert (566799) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @05:47PM (#25321061)

          why data on one's person should be excluded...

          I think if the person is, for example, a lawyer, the data in question could be protected by attorney/client privilege, and therefore they could face disbarrment for disclosure, even were it done under color of authority.

          I imagine, in fact, that this is a real issue for lawyers attempting to operate on behalf of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

          But I'll also answer the question in the subject, as to why it should not simply have an exclusion cause for lawyers, instead of being struck down for everyone: because it's in my head and they have no right to search my head. What's the difference between data in your head and data encrypted with a password stored in your head? To me, the data is in your head, and the data on the hard drive is just a useful memory aid.

          Oh, and if the original poster is more concerned about them getting his data than about losing the laptop, make a one time pad, make a copy of it, put the copy of it in a safe deposit box, travel outside the US, and then after encrypting the data with the OTP, destroy the OTP so it is impossible for you to comply.

          -- Terry

      • by HeWhoMustNotBeNamed (1058944) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:49PM (#25320293)

        We flew into Munich, traveled by Train to Austria and returned to the US via Munich. We had no issues other than US Customs wanted to review the food items we were importing and declared. We knew that when we bought the Austrian chocolate and it took maybe an extra 5 minutes to go through the Agriculture lane for customs.

        I did burn a DVD of my pictures as a backup, more in case the laptop was stollen than if US Customs wanted to retain the laptop.

        Get over the paranoia and go see the world.

        • by bornwaysouth (1138751) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:04PM (#25321265) Homepage
          Deary, deary me. A sane voice. You really don't belong here. Your lack of problems came about because you acted on a normal fashion. Read the posts. These guys are off on another planet.

          An analogy.
          Imagine that you want to walk down a street at night, which just happens to have a lot of coke dealers on it. You have your own *private* reasons for being there. Cop patrols cruise by. The advice given by the other posts is wonderfully technical. The equivalent is. On seeing a cop car, scuttle into a doorway. Wear patterned clothing that allows you to blend into doorways. Wear rubber gloves and be prepared to drop any stash to allow plausible deniability. Have an artificial third leg. In short, wave a large neon sign saying "Look at me."

          There is an observation in the science press that terrorists seem to be more likely to be geeks than non-geeks. From the posts here, I'd say they are simply more likely to be caught.
    • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:36PM (#25318929) Homepage Journal

      ...encrypt it. Full disk encryption is relatively cheap, easy, and unobtrusive.

      And ineffective, unless your privacy is worth more than the cost to piss them off and have to replace your laptop.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:36PM (#25318931)

      But uh, mind if I ask: exactly what kind of pictures are you planning on taking on your vacation? ;-)

      It shouldn't matter what kind of pictures he takes. It is none of their business.

    • by QCompson (675963) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:37PM (#25318943)

      But uh, mind if I ask: exactly what kind of pictures are you planning on taking on your vacation? ;-)

      A subtle "if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear" poke. Haha.

      It doesn't matter what kind of pictures he takes with him on vacation. He doesn't want a bunch of random law enforcement officials looking at his private pictures. Understandably.

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:52PM (#25319263) Journal

        There's only one solution that guarantees that nobody will rifle through your data: don't bring it with you through the border crossing. That's what servers are for... and SSL, or at least SSH/SCP/SFTP.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by clodney (778910)

        I completely understand not wanting a bunch of law enforcement officials looking at his private data. The thought that it is allowed infuriates me.

        But the practical side of me says that I have come into the US several times in the last year, and not once has anyone even asked me to open my bags, let alone turn on my laptop.

        Security through obscurity is probably the best bet here - and obscurity means looking just like all the thousands of other tourists coming in from Mexico every single day.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jjeff1 (636051)
      Not full disk. If it looks like you're got something to hide, eg anything your average AOL using person wouldn't have on their PC, they'll be all over you. You want to look as much like your typical PC user as possible.

      Use truecrypt with the encrypted volume option. When truecrypt is running you'll see an additional drive letter where you store your documents. When truecrypt isn't running, you just see a file. The file can be anywhere, named anything, say C:\windows\system64.dll.

      Before you hit custo
    • by Mike1024 (184871) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:13PM (#25319659)

      But uh, mind if I ask: exactly what kind of pictures are you planning on taking on your vacation? ;-)

      Most keen photographers - myself included - have a story or two about being hassled by security guards or police for photographing public buildings. Check out this article [schneier.com] for examples. It's for security reasons, you see. I might be planning a terrorist attack.

      You wouldn't want the TSA goons to decide that your photographs seem odd [boingboing.net] and to give you a full-body cavity search "just in case".

  • mail it. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:31PM (#25318811)

    problem solved.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nwf (25607)

      That's what I was thinking, but it would likely be expensive to get it through customs. Or put all your data and OS on a SSD and rent or borrow a laptop on whatever country you are going to. Swap the hard drives and you are good to go.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:32PM (#25318845)

    No one is going to search your computer other than to make sure it is a computer and not a bomb.

    • If you haven't noticed lately, the DHS can search your laptop [slashdot.org], make copies of everything on your laptop and keep it. If you are a person who loves exercising arbitrary power over people, you probably work for the DHS or another government agency.

      Its really funny that a person who doesn't care about basic civil liberties is posting as AC. However, the joke is probably on me and you are just a troll. :)

      • by HBI (604924) <kparadine AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:43PM (#25319069) Homepage Journal

        OK, i'm not AC and I can tell you that they don't have time to check out laptops at most international airports beyond the aforementioned bomb check.

        Yes, i've passed into and out of the country several times during the last year. No search.

        • by megamerican (1073936) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:50PM (#25319213)

          No one said it is happening to everyone. That misses the point entirely. Illegally searching even a small percentage of people is unnacceptable. Especially since people affected by this have almost no redress and the DHS doesn't even accurately report when they do this.

          I guess its only a problem when it happens to you. Maybe you should pick up a history book and find out how well that attitude worked in the 1930's and many other time periods.

          • by HBI (604924) <kparadine AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:04PM (#25319513) Homepage Journal

            Only children think in terms of the worst things that could happen to them. Every day, when I leave my house, I could get run over by a bus. I could get ass raped in a jail after being unfairly imprisoned by a cop for a crime I didn't commit. My house could be robbed. My person could be robbed. My car could have a molotov cocktail thrown at it. I could catch some nasty disease from a toilet seat.

            Note I spend about zero time thinking about these things because the chances of them happening to me are about nil. Ditto having my laptop searched. What are they going to find, my porn stash? WTF do I care, really. It's not worth a moment of my life to worry about.

            I retort: Maybe you should grow up and worry about things that are important, like where your next meal is coming from. I hear that it's growing fashionable now.

            • by tirerim (1108567) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:31PM (#25320011)

              So, you don't believe in life insurance, then? How about property insurance? Do you even lock your door when you go out? I don't worry too much about getting killed or having my stuff stolen, but that doesn't mean I don't take reasonable precautions for it. Having those precautions in place saves me from worrying about it.

              Personally, I don't worry too much about where my next meal is coming from, because I have a job. If I lose it, then perhaps I'll worry, until I find another one.

            • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:47PM (#25320259) Homepage Journal

              Note I spend about zero time thinking about these things because the chances of them happening to me are about nil.

              Which just goes to show how bad people are at understanding small probabilities.

              It's foolish to completely ignore possible bad events just because they're unlikely, just as it's foolish to spend lots of time preparing for most unlikely events. The right way to handle unlikely but severely damaging events is to spend a small amount of time on them, and use that time to mitigate the risk to whatever extent is feasible.

              For example: you could get run over by a bus. Therefore, it's prudent to pause for a half-second before crossing the street and look both ways to see if perhaps a bus is coming.

              You could get unfairly imprisoned by a cop for a crime you didn't commit. Therefore, it's worth learning a little about what you do and don't have to say to police in order to minimize the probability that he'll be able to find probable cause for an arrest, and it's a good idea to have your attorney's phone number in your cell.

              Your house could be robbed. So, you should have insurance that covers theft, and should take 15 minutes once a year to video the contents of your home, and store the video in your small fireproof safe (where you keep important stuff to address the small probability that your house will burn down).

              You could catch a nasty disease from a public toilet seat. Well, you could use one of those seat protectors, I suppose. Personally, I think the risk is too small to bother. I do, however, make a habit of grabbing a piece of toilet paper to wipe off the seat before I sit down. This would provide some protection from nasty diseases, but also addresses the much more likely issue that someone may have peed on the seat.

              And so on. Don't ignore small risks, just take appropriately small actions to mitigate them to the degree that makes sense. If you need to figure out how much makes sense, just come up with a dollar figure that values what you'd lose if the event happened and multiply that by the probability of the event happening in a given year. That's the expected annual cost of that risk. Pick an hourly wage for yourself, divide the risk cost by the wage to get a maximum amount of time that it makes sense to spend addressing that risk.

              In the case at hand, it's probably worth a few minutes to type an Ask Slashdot question and read the answers, then a few more minutes to implement whatever seemed to be the best EASY suggestions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hoggoth (414195)

      > No one is going to search your computer other than to make sure it is a computer and not a bomb.

      Oh, really?
      You give those trained monkeys way too much credit:
      http://www.pressrepublican.com/homepage/local_story_278220015.html [pressrepublican.com]

  • by Aurisor (932566) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:32PM (#25318847) Homepage

    Throw a clean install on your laptop, and put your critical data on a server so you can just log in and download it when you arrive.

    When you're about to fly back, re-upload your data and wipe the drive.

    You could also just mail encrypted DVDs with substantial insurance.

  • Short Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scipiodog (1265802) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:34PM (#25318883)
    Short answer: Truecrypt (as you mentioned in the summary.) Is it worth looking into? Yes. Are you being overly paranoid? No. Seriously, have you noticed the big brother trends recently? Truecrypt is very simply and effective encryption, in several forms, from simple encrypted containers to hidden O/S partitions. To take such a simple precaution is not, IMHO, overly paranoid.
  • You could. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FireStormZ (1315639) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:35PM (#25318895)

    Use a clean install and email the photos to yourself while you are there... or put them on an encrypted thumb drive / cd and snail mail it..

  • Well, who are you... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nweaver (113078) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:37PM (#25318937) Homepage

    Are you a middle eastern looking young male? A white male returning from Thailand? If so, be paranoid.

    If not, no worries.

    • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:00PM (#25319435)

      Darned border search exception [wikipedia.org].

      "travelers may be stopped [and searched] at . . . the border without individualized suspicion even if the stop [or search] is based largely on ethnicity[.]" United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 538 (1985), United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 562-563 (1976)

      and

      "may [...] conduct searches of the traveler's body -- including strip, body cavity, involuntary x-ray, and in some jurisdictions, patdown searches -- if the Customs officer has reasonable suspicion" to do so. United States v. Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. 149, 152-53 (2004), United States v. Johnson, 991 F.2d 1287, 1291-92 (7th Cir. 1993)

    • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:52PM (#25320333)

      I am a middle eastern looking young male ... well, not so young anymore, but still well under 50. And as I said in a previous post [slashdot.org], I've never had any real problems with bringing a laptop past airport security on domestic or international flights. And I have had problems [shockandblog.com] before -- big problems [shockandblog.com] -- with airport security (and US Marshals) on a domestic flight. But none of those problems focused on a laptop, and I've never been asked to show what was on my laptop other than once I had to open it up and show that it actually did run. I suppose if someone looked like a child sex tourist flying from Bangkok they might be interested to see what photos are on their hard drive, but by and large their scrutiny is going to focus on whether you're a threat to the other passengers, but do you really think they are looking for vacation_photo_with_osama.jpg?

  • by haeger (85819) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:39PM (#25318973)

    Put your files on a few small USB-sticks, or on your home server (for encrypted retrieval once you're in the country). Bring a Live-CD to boot from and then "cat /dev/random > /dev/sda".
    Make sure to grow a big beard, learn a few arabic phrases and quote Allah to the security guard in customs.

    Then let them have a crack at decrypting your "encrypted" drive.

    Just be sure to say "Just kidding" so they don't ship you off to Guantanamo.

    .haeger

  • by Duradin (1261418) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:40PM (#25318993)

    As the old traveler's adage goes, if you can't afford to lose it, don't bring it.

    Find a cheap laptop used laptop you won't have problems with ditching. Use a live cd or usb key boot solution so nothing ends up on the hard drives.

    Keep your pictures on SD cards and mail them or a copy to yourself or some drop point. Encrypt them all.

  • by C10H14N2 (640033) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:40PM (#25318999)

    ...is a good offense.

    If you're offended by having your privacy invaded, just make it horribly offensive for the invader as well.

    With the right accessorizing and appropriate leather:latex:chainmail ratio, you can ensure even the most intrepid airport screener will breeze you through in record time.

    Oh...and, yes, Truecrypt is terrific, but not nearly as fun.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RingDev (879105)

      I've had the same experience. A few sex toys in the carry on will greatly expedite any terminal searches you wind up going through.

      -Rick

    • by fr4nk (1077037) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:13PM (#25319657)
      ... or just use the goatse pic as a wallpaper.
    • Careful!!! (Score:3, Funny)

      by mangu (126918)

      With the right accessorizing and appropriate leather:latex:chainmail ratio, you can ensure even the most intrepid airport screener will breeze you through in record time

      Have you seen the people they are hiring at the airport security recently? You might be subject to an entirely different form of harassment, from someone who feels you are their perfect soul mate...

  • by SkankinMonkey (528381) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:41PM (#25319017)
    I've taken my laptop across the border 4 times, my wife has done so many times more, neither of us have had our laptops searched. I've been pulled aside by customs and asked questions once, but even then they did not request to see my laptop. I think the bottom line is, if you act shady they'll look at your stuff, if you're just getting your business done then you're fine.
  • by Tha_Big_Guy23 (603419) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:41PM (#25319031)
    I just came back in from a two week stay in Europe, where my travels took me through several countries there. While I was there, all the photos that I took were stored on the laptop, along with several movies that I'd ripped to the drive.

    Upon my return to the states, the check-in process wasn't any different than it had been a couple of years ago. They asked no questions about my laptop, or if I even had one. The only time my laptop left my bag was when I put it through the X-ray machine.

    That being said, it never hurts to encrypt your data anyway.
  • circumvention (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Draque (1367509) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:44PM (#25319099)
    An ounce of circumvention is worth a pound of countermeasures. Don't store them on the laptop at all. Store the pictures you're taking online and you'll be able to access them from anywhere. Border patrol can't find something on your computer when it's not there. Even if that's not feasible 100% of the time, you could still make a temporary archive online while removing them from your computer. If even that has you feeling paranoid, you could always burn the files to DVD, wipe them from your computer, and stow the DVD.
  • In other news.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigattichouse (527527) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:46PM (#25319141) Homepage
    Offshore laptop rentals with temporary accounts linked to offshore data are booming! What a great business model. You set up an account with the company, stuff all your crap on a server, then when you get to your destination, you pick up a laptop (maybe your "rental fees" are part of your normal monthly service account)... logging in to the laptop mounts the remote volume and download away.
  • Easy Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by multipartmixed (163409) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @03:56PM (#25319357) Homepage

    Send it to your hotel DHL overnight before you leave, and do the same to get it home.

    Problem solved.

    • Re:Easy Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bogjobber (880402) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:17PM (#25319731)
      No, problem not solved. He specifically said that he wanted his laptop for the flight, so your solution is no help there. And it is much, *much* easier for them to search your stuff if you send it through a private carrier. There's no expectation of privacy so they can inspect it without a warrant, which is effectively the same as physically carrying it through customs. But this way there's no upset traveller yelling at them and wasting an officer's time, and more imporantly, there's no way you would ever know if your laptop was searched.
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:07PM (#25319569) Homepage

    Insist on showing them every picture!

    Also, backup the gutenberg project.

    Fill up the rest of your drive with dd if="/dev/random" of="secretstuff.iso" so that if they copy your drive they at least have something they can work on decrypting.

    Don't forget to bring your extra harddrives, too! I'd pay you to take some of my crashed ones... I would love for somebody to get the data off of them.

    Other than that, all I can think of is for you to laugh maniacally.

  • by drfrog (145882) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:13PM (#25319671) Homepage

    if uve never been pulled into the us customs secondary inspection i wouldnt worry about it

    ive never had my laptop scrutinized and ive been pulled into secondary inspection a few times

    { canadian programmer telecommuting in the states == working in the states }

    think about who and what they are really looking for , its probably not you or your files

  • by krlynch (158571) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:23PM (#25319859) Homepage

    I know it's the hip thing to worry about Customs rifling through your laptop, but statistically, you have much better things to worry about when bringing your laptop on vacation ... among other things:

    0) Forgetting to bring the AC plug adapter,
    1) Customs services in the foreign country,
    2) Airport security on both ends,
    3) Simple theft of the laptop during the trip,
    4) Putting your laptop bag down on the bus and forgetting it,
    5) Spilling coffee on your keyboard at an internet cafe, and
    6) Dropping your laptop on your big toe and breaking both.

    Practically speaking, Customs agents can't be bothered to search individuals that aren't acting truly "hinky". I've been traveling internationally on a regular basis for business. My travel patterns certainly fit a certain "risk" profile (long stays outside the country, frequent travel, watch list name match, etc.) and I've never, in six years of this, ever had anything searched or questioned, much less seized. Practically, it's not worth worrying about.

  • by D H NG (779318) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:25PM (#25319897)
    I just returned to the US last week from a month-long trip overseas. I brought my laptop along to store photos from my digital camera. The only time I had to remove my laptop from its case was at the airport (LAX) when leaving the US, when I had to put it through an X-ray machine. I didn't have to do it again when I returned (it still went through the X-ray machine). At no point was I asked about the contents of my laptop nor asked to turn it on. This was a marked improvement from 2 years ago, when I had to remove the laptop from its case and remove my shoes at every point in my journey (my trip had a connecting flight).
  • by darkonc (47285) <stephen_samuel@nosPam.bcgreen.com> on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:31PM (#25320007) Homepage Journal
    Set your system to dual boot Windows/Linux. If you're really paranoid, have it boot off of USB first and the main hard drive second. Put the Linux/Grub boot on a USB key, and keep it separate. The system should default to a Windows boot.

    When they boot the system, all they'll see is Windows. Windows will ignore the Linux partition(s). For anything other than an anal-probe search, this'll be enough to keep them at bay.
    It's unlikely that they'll do an anal probe search unless they find something else on you that worries them.

  • by ljw1004 (764174) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @04:34PM (#25320061)

    Millions and millions of people travel with their laptops to all countries in the world. Just about no one has problems. Keep things in perspective.

    Yes, you should be concerned about laptop searches and seizures as a general principle of public conduct. No, you shouldn't be at all concerned about your laptop on your trip.

  • by Anonymous Meoward (665631) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @05:31PM (#25320863)

    This past year we took a laptop with us to Vietnam to pick up our daughter. (We blogged from our hotel a lot. We were awake most of the time anyway.)

    Our jet-lagged child's first hour in the USA was interesting. Nothing cuts through the red tape and lines more effectively than a cranky baby screaming at 160 dB.

  • Easy! (Score:5, Funny)

    by rlp (11898) on Thursday October 09, 2008 @06:22PM (#25321491)
    Border agent: What is your reason for traveling today.
    Geek:  I'm talking to a company about fault-tolerant servers
           ...
           and in this Powerpoint you'll notice that the two processors are running in
           lock-step.  Whereas, this comparator here looks at these two pairs of CPU's
           ....
    Border agent: You may go.
    Geek:  Wait!  This is the interesting part ...
    Border agent: For the love of God, please go!

Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth. -- Nero Wolfe

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