Whether they actually have something to hide, or just dislike the idea of a government official looking at their digital device data, more and more people are expressing interest in how to wipe computer drives before they reach the U.S. border while traveling, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin..
It’s because the government, in its efforts to crack down on illegal activity that ranges from drug smuggling to human trafficking, is asserting more and more authority to search and examine travelers’ possessions, including digital devices, for photos, emails, even browsing histories, when they want to enter the U.S.
In fact, there were only 4,764 such searches in 2015, but almost 24,000 in 2016. While the U.S. Constitution has strong privacy protections while living in the U.S., those protections are weaker, “both legally and practically” at the borders, according to officials with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“Border agents may attempt to scrutinize the content stored on your phones, laptops, and other portable electronic devices. They may try to use your devices as portals to access your cloud content, including electronic communications, social media postings, and ecommerce activity. Moreover, agents may seek to examine your public social media postings by obtaining your social media identifiers or handles.
“As of this writing, the federal government is considering requiring disclosure from certain foreign visitors of social media login credentials, allowing access to privet postings and ‘friend’ lists.”
While the organization said one of its goals is to clarify and increase the privacy protection at borders, travelers do face risks.
“Border agents cannot deny a U.S. citizen admission to the country. However, if a foreign visitor declines [to provide passwords], an agent may deny them entry. If a lawful permanent resident declines, agents may raise complicated questions about their continued status as a resident,” EFF explains.
So the organization, one of the top privacy activists in the country, has assembled a list of tech instructions on how to wipe drives.
Officials with the EFF are upfront with their warnings about the dangers.
“We don’t recommend disk wiping as a border crossing security measure for most travelers. It’s a less common data protection technique than the other ones highlighted in our guide, which include encryption and minimizing data that you carry.
“Wiping your computer will make it unusable to you. Also, it may draw the attention of border agents, since it is unusual for travelers to carry blank devices with them. This may be of particular concern to travelers who are not U.S. citizens, who may receive more scrutiny from border agents.”