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US Courts Consider Legality of Laptop Inspection 595

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the my-porn-is-all-grown-up-anyway dept.
ceide2000 writes "The government contends that it is perfectly free to inspect every laptop that enters the country, whether or not there is anything suspicious about the computer or its owner. Rummaging through a computer's hard drive, the government says, is no different from looking through a suitcase. One federal appeals court has agreed, and a second seems ready to follow suit." This story follows up on a story about laptop confiscation at the borders from a few months ago.
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US Courts Consider Legality of Laptop Inspection

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  • next will be... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:22PM (#21956016)
    next is your banking information, previous employments, medical history and telephone calls made in the past 6 months.

    Welcome to the USA.
    • by WED Fan (911325) <akahige.trashmail@net> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:35PM (#21956280) Homepage Journal

      I encode all my dangerous stuff with everyday words and string them into mundane sentances disguised as personal communication.

      There, everything you need to construct your own death star is in the line above. Oh, and some extra information is hidden in this line about exhaust ports. Damn, I just realized, my encoding for "exhaust ports" renders as "exhaust ports". Well, back to the drawing board.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hey! (33014)
      Next?

      Are you kidding? There is no fundamental law which protects the stuff you mention. Instead there is a patchwork of laws like HIPAA, ECPA, Fair Credit Reporting etc that protect against various egregious abuses, but many if not most of these laws have massive loopholes. For example, the Government is forbidden to take its records and create dossiers on random citizens, but it can buy that same information from vendors on the open market.

      And most of these laws have explicit exceptions of law enforceme
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Actually, there is a right to privacy fundamental in the Constitution both through the 4th Amendment (its purpose is to protect the citizenry from unfair intrusion by the Government) and via the 9th and 10th amendments (The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. and powers not granted the federal government in the Constitution or given to it by the States are reserved for the states or the people).

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Nothing about citizenry. The law states that "The People" shall be secure in their person and effects.
        • Re:next will be... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by hey! (33014) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @03:11PM (#21958012) Homepage Journal
          The ninth, of course, is the most important of the amendments when it comes to privacy. The Fourteenth is probably the next most important, with its protection of liberty and due process.

          The Fourth in itself doesn't really say anything about privacy. It doesn't even keep the government from prying into our private affairs. It does two things: it prevents the government from "unreasonable" (that is to say more or less irrational) seizures and searches. It doesn't even require a warrant for any search or seizure, but it sets standards for warrants where they are customary. If you are a strict constructionist, it doesn't do anything more.

          It is centuries of judicial interpretation and faulty pedagogy that have invested the fourth amendment with privacy protecting powers. Conservative jurists have fought this every step of the way. It was innovators like Louis Brandeis who saw a "right to be left alone" implied by the fourth and fifth amendments, and liberals like William Douglas (Griswold v. Connecticut) and Harry Blackmun (Roe v. Wade) who found a right to privacy in the "penumbra" of the fourth, fifth and fourteenth amendment. It certainly isn't there in plain words, but what is there (they would argue) doesn't make sense unless is protecting such a right.

          Strict construction is an argument against this kind of reasoning. However if you believe in this philosophy, you'd better be pretty accurate about what the Constitution does say, because it lacks a great deal of the mechanics you'd need to protect individual liberties, although the spirit is there.

          • Re:next will be... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @03:59PM (#21958874)
            What we need is another ammendment that extends the protections of the bill of rights to anywhere under the control/power of the US (so they can't claim that the customs line isn't US territory) or their agents (so extraordinary rendition is prima facia illegal). That, and actually applying the 4th/14th to property seizure.
    • Now, next time I visit the States, I know how to be prepared. I will create folders like "goatsePr0n", "My Cunning Plan to Drop a Bomb On George W. Bush", and "Allahu Akbar" . . . and fill them with pictures of Hello Kitty.
  • But (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kieran (20691) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:22PM (#21956020)
    Can they demand you decrypt data or, worse, provide the key?
    • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:25PM (#21956080) Homepage Journal
      A. You can decrypt the data
      B. You can go back where you came from
      • by Asic Eng (193332) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:43PM (#21956406)
        B. You can go back where you came from

        What if you came from the US? I know that many Americans are ok with tourists to the US having no privacy rights, but what about US citizens - is it ok that a citizen loses his rights as soon as he encounters US borders? It seems the 4th amendment ought to protect you against "unreasonable searches and seizures". It's certainly reasonable to search a suitcase for illegal drugs, explosives or quantities of goods which exceed the import limits. All of these things are directly border-related. However is it reasonable to search a laptop at the border? Sure a laptop might contain illegal files, but that's always the case. So if it's reasonable to search for these at the border, it should be reasonable to search for these on all computers all of the time.

        • That's the point. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by C10H14N2 (640033)
          The constitution, 4th amendment included, applies to all people, not just citizens, on U.S. soil and that includes the soil beneath the customs hall.

          Were that not the case, we'd have little need for N379P [wikipedia.org].
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by thefirelane (586885)
          is it ok that a citizen loses his rights as soon as he encounters US borders? It seems the 4th amendment ought to protect you against "unreasonable searches and seizures".

          Sorry, but false. Look into Maritime law, that hasn't applied for hundreds of years. You can be stopped and held at gunpoint while your ship is searched. Same thing for entering the country. They also aren't liable for any damage caused, so they can disassemble your boat/car and say "hey, I guess there weren't any drugs, here's your
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rtb61 (674572)
          It is fact more than a search it is confiscation. The loss of the use of your computer hardware for an extended period. Do your buy a replacement upon the basis that the US government will steal it and never return it or they demand you fly back to the country to pick up the laptop at a greater cost than the laptop.

          Juts another little egotistical power trip for pencil dick thugs, don't like your attitude, your appearance, your accent or your colour, and the dick heads steal your laptop and cost you a coup

    • by jandrese (485)
      No, you are perfectly in your rights to refuse to decrypt your data. They'll just confiscate your laptop instead, or you can turn around and go back home.

      Frankly, this seems untenable to me. What if you ship your data separately? To me it just seems like an extension of the policy where Border Guards can pretty much do whatever they want. As anybody who has had to do more than tell the guard you're only going over the border for a daytrip can attest, those guys don't care one whit about your privacy o
    • SmartCard (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lord Ender (156273)
      It is possible to encrypt the contents of the hard drive using a SmartCard, then mail the SmartCard to your destination in advance of your border crossing. By doing so, it would be absolutely impossible* for you to give them access to your data. And while they may have the legal authority to search your laptop at the border, they do NOT have the authority to break in to your destination address and take the SmartCard (without probable cause, warrant, etc.).

      * For the cryptographers and pedants in the crowd,
      • Re:SmartCard (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Chris Mattern (191822) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @03:35PM (#21958422)

        It is possible to encrypt the contents of the hard drive using a SmartCard, then mail the SmartCard to your destination in advance of your border crossing. By doing so, it would be absolutely impossible* for you to give them access to your data. And while they may have the legal authority to search your laptop at the border, they do NOT have the authority to break in to your destination address and take the SmartCard (without probable cause, warrant, etc.).


        No. But if I'm understanding some other posters here, they DO have the authority to simply keep your laptop. That seems to be the problem with most of these "solutions": no, the Feds don't get to see your data. But you're out maybe $1500 worth of laptop that you'll never see again.

        Chris Mattern
    • Re:But (Score:4, Interesting)

      by davidsyes (765062) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:24PM (#21957182) Homepage Journal
      The assholes, rummaging through a hard drive means LOOKING into someone's personal life, proprietary information, or the like. Rummaging through a suitcase doesn't involve asking for receipts of when, where, and for how much the clothing or toiletries were purchased, or for or by whom the purchases were made.

      This has less to do with protecting the public than it does with further conditioning the public to EXPECT to surrender for ANY reason, even without suspicion or due process or valid warrants.

      Why, just WHY should the public trust some low-level functionary or scanner operator to NOT heft away with product ideas?
  • Luckily (Score:2, Informative)

    by svelemor (875096)
    ... there are effective ways to protect your own privacy http://www.truecrypt.org/ [truecrypt.org]
  • by guitaristx (791223) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:25PM (#21956078) Journal
    This is not suitcase snooping, this is opening a sealed envelope found within my suitcase and reading the contents even though both the suitcase and envelope test negative on the bomb sniffer.
    • by BeanThere (28381)
      Yes, I thought that the 'logic' for checking suitcases was to search for physical threats such as bombs. Bits on a hard disk hardly qualify as a threat.
      • by sholden (12227) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:36PM (#21956292) Homepage
        Your assumption is wrong. It's to search for items which are illegal to bring into the country. That would some plants and animals (quarantine laws), and also certain bit sequences on a hard drive (child pornography), bits of paper (undeclared currency over a magic value), arbitrary objects (that you didn't pay duty on) and a lot of other things. It's customs doing the searching, they don't actually care about bombs - of course if they found one they'd bring in the people who do care about such things...
    • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:27PM (#21956130) Homepage Journal
      Um, upon entering the country, they can open a sealed letter in your possession and read the contents already.
    • by CarpetShark (865376) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:44PM (#21956454)
      No, it's not "opening a sealed envelope". Envelopes can contain toxic chemicals, weapons, etc. Computers only hold information. The difference is that they're now policing thought.
  • Can they inspect every packet that enters (or exits) the US? Does the physical medium have to be in transit?
  • by rossdee (243626) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:28PM (#21956142)
    Are they going to check all the new laptops shipped from China too? Theres probably spyware, malware etc on their hard drives Anyway its gpoing to mean long lines at the security checkpoints at airports as federal employees check out business travellers pron colledtions.
  • A better analogy... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kebes (861706) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:29PM (#21956162) Journal

    Rummaging through a computer's hard drive, the government says, is no different from looking through a suitcase.
    Wouldn't a more apt analogy be "can border security read all the paper documents a person is carrying?" Is it legal for border security to open every binder of notes, and open every letter on your person, including medical records, bank statements, things marked "private" or "confidential" or "top secret"?

    I think the answer is: no, that's not allowed. They are allowed to search in order to satisfy themselves that it is a book/document and not something nefarious (bomb, contraband, etc.)... but beyond that they cannot go rummaging through any data you happen to be carrying on your person.

    By analogy, I would expect that physically inspecting a laptop (to make sure it's not hiding anything nefarious) is okay, but I can't think of a legitimate reason to start scanning through the data on it.
    • by peragrin (659227) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:41PM (#21956372)
      curious are they going to search every MP3 player, every Thumb drive, every floppy disc, or cd that enter's the country?

      If I wanted to get information beyond the border without It being noticed, a partitioned MP3 player HD hiding an encrypted volume.

      The MP3 player plays just fine, but only a physical search by a trained IT person would even notice that something was wrong. especially if I "upgraded" an old 20gb model with a 40 or 80 gb hard drive, and partitioned it in such a way as to leave 20gb for the player, and the rest was hidden from view, unless inserted into another computer.

      I just thought of that reading these responses.
      • by Reziac (43301) * on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:09PM (#21956916) Homepage Journal
        If I wanted to get information across the border without being noticed, I'd put it on an FTP site and email the link and login info to myself, to a webmail account that I can access anywhere merely by memorizing the username and password. No need to even have the POP3 access info on the laptop, let alone the "incriminating data".

        In fact if transporting data is your only reason for entering the country, just upload the nefarious data to one of the free FTP sites, and email the link to your partners-in-crime. Why risk being caught at the border??

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by houghi (78078)
          Email the link? Put the link on tinyurl and remember the 5 last characters.

          That would still leave a trail directly to you.

          There is a better wau. Usenet. Encrypt a file into (a series of) pictures with something like steghide [sourceforge.net]. Post the pictures to any (relevant) binary newsgroup.

          Delivery is done by the Usenet system, so there is NO link between the sender and the reciever. Encryption is done with gpg, so no real worries that even if people see there is something in it that they will be able to read it.
  • 4th Amendment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Antony-Kyre (807195) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:29PM (#21956164)
    I guess if they're going to ignore the 4th Amendment when it comes to suitcases, they might as well ignore it when it comes to laptops. After all, who is to say what it means for "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,"
    • by sirwired (27582) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:57PM (#21956694)
      The 4th amendment does not apply to searches at the border, and it never has. Throughout modern history, every country in the world (the U.S. included) has reserved the right to search anything and everything entering the country, save diplomatic pouches.

      The 4th amendment only covers "unreasonable" search and seizure. Border searches are considered reasonable, and therefore require no warrant. This was formally codified by the 1st Congress (thank you Findlaw), who could be assumed to know the intentions of the founding fathers. More intrusive operations over and above a cursory search (such as X-Rays, or I supposed computer checks) only require "reasonable suspicion", as opposed to the more strict "probable cause".

      The current version of the law states:
      19 USC 1581:
      (a) Customs officers
      Any officer of the customs may at any time go on board of any vessel
      or vehicle at any place in the United States or within the customs
      waters or, as he may be authorized, within a customs-enforcement area
      established under the Anti-Smuggling Act [19 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.], or at
      any other authorized place, without as well as within his district, and
      examine the manifest and other documents and papers and examine,
      inspect, and search the vessel or vehicle and every part thereof and any
      person, trunk, package, or cargo on board, and to this end may hail and
      stop such vessel or vehicle, and use all necessary force to compel
      compliance.

      I would think a search of the hard drive falls well within a "package".

      SirWired
      • well said (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Quadraginta (902985) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:10PM (#21956920)
        I sure get tired of the fools who think international borders should be treated as carelessly as the border between Nevada and California. I can only think they've lived so long in a world that seems totally harmless, like trust-fund babies who've never left the crime-free gated community, that they now naively think there's just no more evil left in the world. So they can't see all this fuss about actually, you know, making sure that folks coming into the country are not up to seriously bad things.

        They remind me a bit of the similar folks who fuss about the dangers of vaccines or chlorine in the water supply, because they've lived in a world with powerful antibiotics so long they no longer really believe that deadly bacteria exist and can kill you dead without some basic precautions at the similar "border" between one's body and the outside world.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by HiThere (15173)
          Except that this is an exceptionally stupid approach whose only justification is to allow bureaucrats to exert power. It doesn't make anyone, anywhere in the world, any safer. It does confiscate some people's laptops...and possibly the guards take possession of some of them. Or maybe not. (Evidence lockers have been known to lose valuable evidence which isn't of any use for a trial.)

          It's so wrong-headed that I can't think of any intelligible purpose that it serves, other than to keep people subservient
  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:29PM (#21956166) Homepage Journal
    Except that software doesn't pose a "threat to national security" if it's transfered on an airplane. Sure they may say that "We want to keep hacker software and naughty viruses out!", which is ginger and all, but there's this one new thing, maybe you've heard of it TSA - called the internet. So really I have to ask why do they need to search peoples hard drives? The people could easily just leave their data at home or on a remote server and transfer it to their laptops once they land.

    On the subject of encrypted data, here's an interesting question, what if the user doesn't have the key (e.g. a messenger)? Do they have to delete that data? And how do they know it's entirely deleted? Do they run Nuke and Boot on the user's hard drive?

    It seems to me this is just a classic case of political "Lets make laws on things that we don't understand and scare us".
  • To carry a laptop across the border with child porn on it...

    But there's more, how retarded do you have to be to encrypt it and then give the passphrase to decrypt to the customs agent when he asks...

  • It's tricky (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hibiki_r (649814) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:31PM (#21956210)
    A laptop can be used to carry contraband. Pirated software. Nuclear secrets. What makes it different from opening a suitcase?

    There's a few things that make it different. First, by opening a suitcase and performing a cursory inspection, an official doesn't read every notebook and letter the traveler is carrying. A customs official that takes a computer for inspection can do all kinds of unreasonable things to it, and there's little that can be done about it. There's also the problem of figuring out what is illegal: Should a traveler prove that every mp3 he is carrying was ripped legally? Should we have to carry the licenses of all commercial software? It'd be crazy.

    And finally, there's the fact that anyone smuggling software will just get an internet connection and send it across through the wire.
  • What is "illegal" on a laptop that comes into the country? I can understand stuff like plans for a bomb or correspondence with a terrorist group. But that has to be an extreme. So what else are they looking for?
  • Lessons (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thansal (999464) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:33PM (#21956236)
    "There are all sorts of lessons in these cases. One is that the border seems be a privacy-free zone. A second is that encryption programs work. A third is that you should keep your password to yourself. And the most important is that you should leave your laptop at home."

    Don't forget the one about not being a pedo, I mean, I know, it isn't that obvious, but still, just in case you didn't catch it, don't be a damn pedo.

    Honestly, I am not sure how I feel about boarder inspections. Yes, they are important to some degree (it IS illegal to traffic in certain things). However, they should also have a good REASON to search you.

    If we accept them doing random stops and searches (I honestly don't know how I feel about this), or if they have good reason to stop and search you, then I have no problem with them searching your laptop as well. They obviously should not keep records of ANYTHING found in there (unless breaking a specific law), however searching a laptop when you are already searching the person/car for somethign that likely could be found on the laptop? why not?

    All in all, I dono. It seems a slippery slope problem, but it also seems relatively reasonable (Again, assuming there is a good reason for the search in the first place)
  • Not a bad job to get to be a screener going through a homesick businessman's girlfriend/wife pics.
  • by soulsteal (104635) <soulsteal @ 3 l 337.org> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:35PM (#21956272) Homepage
    Folder on desktop named "Kiddie pics?" Check.

    Thousands of JPGs within? Check.

    All JPGs are hello.jpg? Checkmate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by R2.0 (532027)
      "Folder on desktop named "Kiddie pics?" Check.

      After they see the "kiddie pics" folder, you get segregated. Now sit on your ass for a couple hours while they call a higher level agent to OPEN the folder.

      "Thousands of JPGs within? Check."

      Sit through another couple of hours of interrogation, trying to get you to reveal what's in the folder. Then they call a computer forensics "expert" to analyze the files.

      "All JPGs are hello.jpg? Checkmate"

      They spend another few hours trying to determine if the Goatse Guy is
    • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:28PM (#21957246) Homepage
      Reasonable suspicion that person has explored the possibility of hiding something up his anus? Check.

      Rubber glove? Check.

      Any way to refuse? Checkmate.
  • They only know to ask for your decryption key if they can find data they think is encrypted.

    Then you can have things like hardware keys and password keys. And you could have a rsa key on the internet, so you need all three to decrypt.
  • by Tim C (15259) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:38PM (#21956334)
    After all, they keep giving us foreigners more and more reasons to avoid the US and spend our money elsewhere.
  • Four words: (Score:3, Funny)

    by Dan East (318230) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:41PM (#21956370) Homepage Journal
    thumb drive
    encryption
    orifice
  • by Random BedHead Ed (602081) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:43PM (#21956408) Homepage Journal
    I can see the court's argument, and I suppose it really isn't any different, since you're crossing a border. But what's the point? I've heard there's actually a big network that extends internationally outside the United States (an "inter-net" if you will) that makes data transfers into the US without physical hard disks fairly easy. If this is truly the case, wouldn't anything "contraband" be sent via that? (I mean, assuming it's not too difficult to get an account on this network.)
  • by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:43PM (#21956420) Homepage
    I don't think you'd need to encrypt anything. Your laptop won't be on when they begin their inspection, right? So add another account that you fully cooperate with them with that has access to nothing, and maybe has some default pictures and stuff for them to browse around with. Configure login script to fix whatever they screw up on that account on each login. Log into *that* one for them to do their probing. They won't have any way of knowing it isn't your main account. Heck, make that a nice self-healing account that friends can use. Bonus!

    If you assume somewhat more sophisticated inspectors, you may want to put what can be construed as nefarious software (nmap, tcpdump, nessus, kismet, etc) in a more secure than normal place.

    Now, if you expect the thing to be confiscated, that is a different story.
  • by mattr (78516) <mattr.telebody@com> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:44PM (#21956444) Homepage Journal
    Finally a plausible reason why JM is conceivable.
  • by Foofoobar (318279) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:45PM (#21956456)
    Can they ask to see the contents of a company laptop? If that information is proprietary you have every right to deny them access as an employee or face legal liability for showing others that information. Arguably, they have no right to a laptop that isn't yours or viewing information that you do not have the right to show them; they would need to get a release from the company in order to view that data.
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:15PM (#21957028) Homepage

      Can they ask to see the contents of a company laptop? If that information is proprietary you have every right to deny them access as an employee or face legal liability for showing others that information.

      The US Customs agency is operating under the mandate that they can detain you and/or inspect you arbitrarily, and that you have no legal recourse against it.

      You used to be able to say "I withdraw my petition to enter your country" and they'd just basically ship you back. Now, they don't really care. Gonzales basically gave them a legal opinion that says you, as a foreign national, have no legal protections or expectation of privacy. I'm not sure of the specifics, but at one point, they said "we can do anything we like".

      Arguably, they have no right to a laptop that isn't yours or viewing information that you do not have the right to show them; they would need to get a release from the company in order to view that data.

      Refusing to give them the information on the grounds of a NDA will mean nothing to them. They'll jail you if they want to. They are not bound by your NDA, and they can compel you to answer whatever they ask or open what they request.

      I wouldn't be willing to try to stand behind an NDA with my company at a US border -- but then again, I don't plan on presenting myself to one any more. Over the last few years, I have decided that there really isn't a compelling enough reason to travel to the US. The level of draconian crap and complete loss of rights which can ensue is just not worth the exposure or the risk.

      It gets echoed a lot here on Slashdot, but an awful lot of people simply will not travel to the US again.

      Cheers
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by telso (924323)

        You used to be able to say "I withdraw my petition to enter your country" and they'd just basically ship you back.Now, they don't really care.

        This actually gives you a good reason to travel to the US through Canada. From the Preclearance Act [justice.gc.ca] (which is summarised on some signs in Canadian airport preclearance areas):

        10. (1) Every traveller has the right, at any stage of the preclearance process, to leave a preclearance area without departing for the United States, unless a preclearance officer informs t

  • by BlueshiftVFX (1158033) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:45PM (#21956464)
    they can stick theyre hand up your butt, why would you be worried about your laptop. your laptop won't cry in the shower to boy george after it's violating probing.
  • Terminal A? (Score:5, Funny)

    by delire (809063) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @01:56PM (#21956676)
    As a heavy terminal user I long since lost interest in running a desktop environment. This has become a problem when I travel internationally, something I do very often.

    On two separate occassions I've been asked to boot my machine. On both occassions the security officials became quite disturbed when they saw a text only boot sequence. One asked me to turn the machine off immediately and after 30 minutes I was able to explain what was on my computer in a way they liked. The second incident was worse. Once my laptop had come out of suspend-to-RAM the security guy demanded "Log into your computer please". On seeing a single maximised xterm he became nervous. He held me until an official came down from upstairs, who promptly laughed warmly and said "It's unix. It's OK".

    I know a couple of other people that have been in very similar situations.

    These days I have a session manager such that I can boot into a clean GNOME desktop should such a situation arise, complete with soothing coastal background image.

    The rationale for having me boot my computer apparently was that it may be a bomb, not that my contents might be suspicious. The logic of having me sit in front of them and power on a bomb just to find out if it is, in fact, a bomb still escapes me to this day. Nearly as bizarre as the giant liquids disposal vat at security check: "Please mix your bomb ingredients in this packed airport instead of on the plane. Thankyou."
    • by archont (1215492) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:26PM (#21957212)
      Damn. If I, for whatever reason, will be forced to visit the US, I'll make a custom boot sequence on my laptop. It'd go something like this: Primer.. Green PETN charge (50g).. Green VX gas pressure.. Green Anti-tampering.. Green Along with a hollywood-stylized bomb counter with some arabic text and a password box "Type password to deactivate". If I wouldn't die from being tasered I'd probably die from laughter.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by thbb (200684)
        Seriously. US customs are among the most paranoid bureaucrats on earth.

        I know of a respectable French old lady in her 60's who is banned from traveling to the US.

        Her crime ? At the customs inspection, as the officer checked her purse, she inconspicuously
        hushered "boom" (it was in 2002).

        She was sent back to France on the next flight after 24h in custody.
    • by meringuoid (568297) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:31PM (#21957294)
      The rationale for having me boot my computer apparently was that it may be a bomb, not that my contents might be suspicious. The logic of having me sit in front of them and power on a bomb just to find out if it is, in fact, a bomb still escapes me to this day.

      Simple. If your computer switches on and acts as a computer should, then it's clearly not a bomb. There is absolutely no way to replace the hard drive with a miniature solid-state device running a basic OS install, and the battery with a much smaller one sacrificing battery life for extra room, and use the space saved for a big lump of Semtex to be triggered by echo detonate > /dev/bomb. This is entirely impossible. Which is fortunate, because otherwise they'd have to ban laptops on flights, and that would upset the rich.

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @02:41PM (#21957436)
    the first TSA guy took the battery. http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/12/28/1944208 [slashdot.org]
  • Not just US (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xest (935314) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @03:04PM (#21957856)
    Canadian customs and immigration checked through my laptop also. In fact, I say also but US customs and immigration has never actually checked the contents of my hard drive as Canadian customs did but they have made sure it turns on and isn't a bomb instead however.

    I've never taken my laptop round Europe with me so I can't really give any experience of other customs. I've not actually had British customs itself check my laptop at all though, simply putting it through the scanner in it's case was enough for them although I'd imagine they may check it if I was coming into the country as a foreign national or if I seemed slightly more dodgy!

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