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Laptops Can Be Searched At the Border 821

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-need-no-stinkin'-suspicion dept.
Nothing to Declare notes that a California appeals court has unanimously upheld a ruling that border security officers at international airports can search personal computers without requiring any specific evidence of criminal activity. The appeal was made by US resident Michael Timothy Arnold, charged with child pornography offenses after an airport search of his notebook PC in 2005. Might want to think hard about what's on your laptop if you're going to be passing through a US international airport.
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Laptops Can Be Searched At the Border

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  • I Wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OS24Ever (245667) * <trekkie@nomorestars.com> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @01:52PM (#23160968) Homepage Journal
    It makes you wonder that if there hadn't been something like Child Porn on there if this would have been overruled.

    If it'd been a violation of rights search where they searched and you sued just for that with no criminal conviction.

    The sad part, is this sets a president if it is allowed to stand, and whittles away at everything else.
    • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by the_skywise (189793) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:00PM (#23161090)
      It makes you wonder if Slashdot would've even posted something like this if it didn't involve computers...
      FTFA:

      "Arnold has failed to distinguish how the search of his laptop and its electronic contents is logically any different from the suspicionless border searches of travelers' luggage that the Supreme Court and we have allowed," wrote Justice Diarmuid O'Scannlain.
      Is searching the files on a laptop when entering the country any different from searching paper files in a briefcase at the border?
      • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:03PM (#23161150)
        You can't carry drugs or bombs on a hard disk.
        • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

          by unlametheweak (1102159) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:38PM (#23161778)

          You can't carry drugs or bombs on a hard disk.
          Yes, but you can carry ideas, perversions, business contacts, dirty pictures, and trade secrets. All of these are of interest to inquiring minds.

          So it doesn't really matter if privacy is violated as long as the government gets to meet its agenda.
          • "... government gets to meet its agenda."

            What happens if your laptop is encrypted? Can they tell you how it is supposed to work if the boot code is temporarily disabled? Can they expect you to supply a password? What happens if you carry the laptop hard drive in your pocket?

            The free, open source TrueCrypt [truecrypt.org] works with Windows and Linux and now encrypts the boot partition, on the fly, while the the computer is being used.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            One of my friends might get a kick out of taking a virgin hard drive, intentionally borking (breaking) a load of Windows on it, saying that it doesn't work, and when they clone it they get the windows and such, and also several thousand single letter jpegs and word docs (kind of like DW2004 did when you had created a new sheet) just to take time.

            Stupidity should be countered with the mockery of it.
          • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Hemogoblin (982564) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @03:49PM (#23162788)
            I worked as a Customs officer in another country, but I'm pretty sure things are very similar in the United States. The issues you brought up don't particularly worry me, since I've had firsthand experience searching laptops.

            I can't speak for other officers, but there are only three reasons I would ever look at a laptop
            (1) I thought there were drugs or other substance physically hidden inside. (I have never seen or heard of this happening)
            (2) I am suspicious of the person's reason for seeking entry to the country, and I need to determine who or what or why they are here.
            (3) Their criminal record indicates some sort of fraud, child molestation, or other nasty things.

            If I am searching a laptop for one of the above reasons, I will usually make a cursory search (or thorough search for reason 3) for child porn. I'm somewhat younger than the average age for a Customs officer, so I would say I'm slighty more computer savy than the other officers. Obviously I'm aware of things like hidden folders, and the possibility of things like TrueCrypt. An average officer would usually just browse the contents of various folders, maybe use built in window's search, and check any cds they have lying around in their bag. I wouldn't be slowed down by a laptop running Linux, but it would certainly throw off an average officer. Unfortunately, that just means you'll be sitting around for a few hours while they call in a computer tech or figure out what to do with you.

            The chance that one of these searchs is going to give away "trade secrets, ideas, and sensitive business contacts" is going to be pretty much nil. There is no point of looking at your random business documents except to determine why you are entering the country. I'm certainly not going to recognize, remember, or understand any business secrets that you have on your laptop. We don't make copies, nor do we connect them to our computer network, so they're not going to leak that way either. So really, even if you did have business secrets on your laptop, it's extremely unlikely that one of these searchs will reveal them.

            I would like to say however that if your laptop is SEIZED, then the above may not apply. Once a laptop is seized, it is out of the regular Customs officers hands and it is sent to some sort of technical department. I have no idea what they do with seized goods. In addition, I only worked at an Airport, so I'm not sure if/how laptop's are searched if they are entering by mail.
        • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MenTaLguY (5483) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:42PM (#23161816) Homepage
          You can't carry drugs or bombs in paper files either. Except maybe LSD.
        • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

          by penguin_dance (536599) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @03:00PM (#23162106)
          Drugs...yeah probably not worthwhile, but bombs.....

          One of the reasons they started making people turn on their laptops was to make sure it was a working computer and not hollowed out computer carrying an explosive divise.

          I'm guessing they equated this search with looking through a suitcase, finding a suspicious envelope, which when opened contained child porn photos or film.

          Oh and BTW, before everyone starts blaming Bush and overzealous national security laws, this ruling came from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals [wikipedia.org], known for being one of the most liberal (and most overturned) of the federal appeals courts. However, the article speculates that this probably won't be heard in the Supreme Court because the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld a conviction for a man who crossed the Canadian border with a computer holding child pornography.

          • Re:I Wonder (Score:4, Insightful)

            by ender- (42944) <doubletwistNO@SPAMfearthepenguin.net> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @03:21PM (#23162406) Homepage Journal

            ...

            I'm guessing they equated this search with looking through a suitcase, finding a suspicious envelope, which when opened contained child porn photos or film. ...
            I have to ask. What constitutes a 'suspicious' envelope in a suitcase? Lets say I have a suitcase containing my clothes, and I have a letter-sized manila envelope laid on top of the clothes. Shy of a big "My kiddie porn" written in sharpie across the face of the envelope, what would make that envelope more suspicious than any other envelope? How is this determined?

            I suppose if the envelope is sneaking around, glancing furtively and acting paranoid, I maybe could see describing it as 'suspicious'. Otherwise they are just opening random envelopes. Nothing suspicious about them at all.
          • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Funny)

            by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @03:58PM (#23162926)
            "before everyone starts blaming Bush..."

            If you're defending Bush at this stage of the game, you're a fucking wack job :)

      • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

        by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:34PM (#23161710)
        Is searching the files on a laptop when entering the country any different from searching paper files in a briefcase at the border?

        Well actually, yeah. Depending on how meticulous the person is, it can have any or all of these things:

        -Proprietary or confidential information for any company you've ever worked for (regardless of whether or not it was a good idea to have saved that)
        -Elaborate summary of your fantasies (porn folder)
        -Logs of all personal correspondence or hobbies you've stored electronically (newsletters you've received or published, emails, instant messages, message board subscribed to, etc)
        -Financial information (tax forms, bank account records)
        -History of anything you've purchased online (from email, or logging into sites via the cookie on your machine)
        -Political, cultural, or sexual leanings (via browser bookmarks)

        That's alot of stuff to be available on demand, huh? What about making an image of the hard drive for later perusal? It's not like you have to worry about that kind of thing being lost/stolen/hacked form wherever warehouse it gets dumped at.
    • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Informative)

      by WaltBusterkeys (1156557) * on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:05PM (#23161168)
      The sad part, is this sets a president if it is allowed to stand, and whittles away at everything else.

      First, you mean precedent. The President is the guy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. "Precedent" is what judges use to decide cases.

      That said, the border search exception [wikipedia.org] has always allowed the government to search your bags when you cross the border, to look for drugs, guns, agricultural products, etc. Think about passing through Customs at any international crossing -- they get to randomly pull you out of line and dump out the contents of your bag for any reason whatsoever (or no reason whatsoever) and make sure you're not smuggling anything into the country. That understanding of the Fourth Amendment has been on the books for centuries. It might be "right" or "wrong," but there's no doubt that it's been the law for ages.
    • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Funny)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:07PM (#23161226) Homepage
      Time for all of us to let our laptops boot up into obscure korean, sami or other languages when they are going to inspect them. Maybe a power supply requiring a 400VAC feed too - and no battery :-)

      Odd operating systems like AROS or text only interfaces may also do well. You just can't fail the nerdity test then!

      • Re:I Wonder (Score:4, Interesting)

        by _xeno_ (155264) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:27PM (#23161594) Homepage Journal

        I remember once when playing around with distros, I wound up doing something to GRUB such that it lost its menu.lst. (I can't remember exactly what I did, since it was still able to find the Stage 1.5 and Stage 2 files. I must have just accidentally deleted menu.lst.) Rather than bothering to, you know, fix it, I just booted "manually" by entering the GRUB commands to boot whenever I needed to reboot - which, being Linux, was basically limited to kernel updates.

        In any case, it made it so that the computer was essentially only bootable by me, since only I knew the magic commands to start it. (Something like root (hd2,7), kernel /boot/vmlinuz, boot - a relatively simple configuration that wasn't really that hard to remember once you knew the magic numbers.)

        So just delete /boot/grub/menu.lst after memorizing the magic commands to boot your system, and leave the customs agents staring at the GRUB> prompt.

        • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Funny)

          by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:43PM (#23161832) Homepage

          So just delete /boot/grub/menu.lst after memorizing the magic commands to boot your system, and leave the customs agents staring at the GRUB> prompt.

          As it happens, many customs agents know their own magic commands to boot the system.

          "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to boot this computer."

          Saying "No" isn't the most helpful answer to that request.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ArcherB (796902)

            So just delete /boot/grub/menu.lst after memorizing the magic commands to boot your system, and leave the customs agents staring at the GRUB> prompt.

            As it happens, many customs agents know their own magic commands to boot the system.

            "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to boot this computer."

            Saying "No" isn't the most helpful answer to that request.

            It may be easier to just uninstall X before traveling.

            "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to boot this computer."
            "Sure, here ya go. Let me log in. There you go. You are in ~"
            "Sir, the mouse does not work and there are no windows."
            "Of course not! It's Linux. I have mine set up for text only due to the strict memory and graphical requirements that a GUI requires. There are no windows on this machine. (pun intended)"

            Even if you do have porn on the system, it doesn't have the same effect when viewed in AS

      • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Funny)

        by sexybomber (740588) <boccilino@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @03:24PM (#23162448)

        Time for all of us to let our laptops boot up into obscure korean, sami or other languages when they are going to inspect them. Maybe a power supply requiring a 400VAC feed too - and no battery :-)

        Odd operating systems like AROS or text only interfaces may also do well. You just can't fail the nerdity test then!


        Uhhhh, I know you're kidding, but may I remind you that some (most?) TSA thugs are so dense that they couldn't figure out what a MacBook Air was? I'll bet you a beer that the situation turns out something like this:

        $RANDOM_GEEK: Here you go, officer.
        (Laptop boots with Korean-language GRUB bootloader)
        TSA Guy: Whut the f**k is this? That some sorta Muslamian language? ARE YOU A TERRORIST, BOY?
        $RANDOM_GEEK: No, it's just...
        *brrrrrzap*
        $RANDOM_GEEK: Don't tase me, bro!
        TSA Guy: BACKUP! I NEED BACKUP!
    • Re:I Wonder (Score:5, Funny)

      by Teckla (630646) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:10PM (#23161298)

      The sad part, is this sets a president if it is allowed to stand, and whittles away at everything else.

      The Supreme Court doesn't set presidents, they set precedents.

      Oh, wait...

  • Time to think (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jason1729 (561790) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @01:56PM (#23161022)
    Might want to think hard about what's on your laptop if you're going to be passing through a US international airport.

    Might want to think hard about making a trip to the states even if you don't have anything untoward on your laptop.
  • by Kandenshi (832555) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @01:57PM (#23161040)
    How deeply can/do they search a laptop while I'm waiting to get on my plane?

    I know encryption gets their panties in a twist, but suppose I have data I want kept private is just burying it in a weird location good enough?
    What are they actually looking for, and how would they be searching for it? Unlikely to get them disclosing said techniques publicly, so... Rampant speculation? :P
    • by peipas (809350) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:00PM (#23161106)
      And that's the thing. Like the last /. discussion on this, if your hard drive is encrypted can they compel you to provide access as a condition for allowed travel?

      What about employees of organizations/in professions that are legally required to protect information?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        When this first became an issue I received a company memo that gave the simple instructions:
        • The border is not the place for a debate over the constitution.
        • Cooperate with them, but don't volunteer information
        • Provide any hard drive/power-on passwords and the email password if asked, but to refuse to supply VPN login (and related) information.
        • I am to make clear the laptop is owned by the company.
        • Get a receipt if they confiscate it
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:06PM (#23161196) Homepage

      How deeply can/do they search a laptop while I'm waiting to get on my plane?

      Well, they're not really limited by when your plan leaves.

      They will hold you until they're done with you -- if you don't make your flight, that's not their problem, really.

      I know encryption gets their panties in a twist, but suppose I have data I want kept private is just burying it in a weird location good enough?

      They don't feel you have any right to privacy when crossing the boarder. Any attempt to maintain privacy is clearly an attempt to evade detection.

      People who are evading detection clearly have something to hide, and merit further questioning.

      You really are fsck'd either way. And, in the end, they could just keep the laptop anyway if they choose.

      Cheers
    • by Spokehedz (599285) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:29PM (#23161646)
      There was a ruling a while back I believe in Massachusetts, but the gist was if you encrypt your laptop you do not have to give out your PGP key because it is covered under the 5th amendment.

      So... You UPS your encrypted laptop (and your clothes, shampoo, etc.) to wherever you are going and get on the airplane with as little technology as you are willing to lose when you travel.

      I fail to see how DHS or TSA are still a problem for people traveling. I've done this for years (even before the whole "OH NOES! TERRORISTS!") and I have yet to lose an article of clothing or some bit of technology when I travel.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It's possible to have information on your laptop that even a customs agent does not have the authority to become party too. Think an attorney with case files and communications, a clinician with patient data, an engineer with trade secrets, etc. Hopefully, that information would all be encrypted on the laptop... But, if that peaks their interest, what are you going to do? If you grant them access, you go to jail, get fined, loose your professional license, etc. If you deny them access, you'll probably be he
  • by ewhac (5844) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @01:57PM (#23161048) Homepage Journal
    I imagine there's some thinly-parsed definition about whether or not you're officially on US soil when you're entering Customs and, therefore, whether the Fifth Amendment could be said to apply.

    The next logical question is, if you password-protect and encrypt your hard drive to thwart precisely this kind of unwarranted and unjustifiable privacy invasion, can Customs force you to divulge your passwords?

    Schwab

    • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:06PM (#23161200) Journal
      I'm sure NYCL can give a better answer, but there has been some use of the 5th amendment right that protects you from having to incriminate yourself to legally allow you to not give them the password, or divulge where files are on your laptop.

      My advice is bury it, encrypt it. Use obscurity in as much as you have several partitions encrypted, and when/if forced by courts to give up the password, give them the password to only one partition and counter sue for loss of data if you can. I forget what movie it was in but the bad guy said "always be guilty of a lesser crime" to avoid doing hard time.

      Yep put your data in encrypted partition ABC, then a bunch of scientology and /b/ stuff in another encrypted partition xyz. If you are forced to surrender a password, give them only the password for partition xyz. Lie and tell them that is the only password.
    • by gethoht (757871) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:07PM (#23161206)
      I highly recommend using truecrypt and incorporating a hidden volume [truecrypt.org]. That way if you need to divulge a password, you can just give them one that allows access to a volume that doesn't have the sensitive data they are looking for.
      • by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @03:01PM (#23162126)

        That way if you need to divulge a password, you can just give them one that allows access to a volume that doesn't have the sensitive data they are looking for.

        nerd: (waving hand) These aren't the files that you are looking for...

        TSA: These aren't the files we are looking for.

        nerd: He can go about his business...

        TSA: You can go about your business.

        nerd: Move along...

        TSA: Move along, move along please.

        companion of nerd: I thought we'd never get past those guards!

        nerd: The force can have a powerful influence upon the weak minded...

    • by mr_majestyk (671595) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:08PM (#23161230)
      The next logical question is, if you password-protect and encrypt your hard drive to thwart precisely this kind of unwarranted and unjustifiable privacy invasion, can Customs force you to divulge your passwords?

      not YET... [news.com]
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:30PM (#23161652) Homepage

      I imagine there's some thinly-parsed definition about whether or not you're officially on US soil when you're entering Customs and, therefore, whether the Fifth Amendment could be said to apply.

      Heck, Gonzales once issued a statement once saying that people who haven't cleared customs technically are neither in nor out of the US, and therefore have no actual rights (can't dredge up a reference now). He's certainly said that habeus corpus [sfgate.com] isn't actually a right.

      Basically, for a while at least, the legal opinion was that you could be arbitrarily and indefinitely detained without recourse. You're so far removed from the 5th Amendment at that point, it's not funny!!

      Unless things change, you have shockingly few rights at the border -- at least until a court clarifies things.

      Cheers
      • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:37PM (#23161770) Homepage
        Replying to my own post, bad form, I know ...

        So, here [www.cbc.ca] is a news article which includes the assertion that you basically have no rights.

        As a foreign national, and possibly even as a US citizen, you could find yourself with absolutely no legal rights whatsoever. I have no idea if that interpretation is still in effect or not. But, at one point, they could disappear your ass, and didn't feel like they had any real duty to protect you.

        Scary shit!!

        Cheers
  • 4th Amendment... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Delwin (599872) * on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @01:58PM (#23161054)
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. " I can see them checking your person before getting on a plane to make sure you're not carrying weapons... but what on your laptop could possibly endanger an airplane?
    • by Kohath (38547) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:18PM (#23161464)
      You don't have a 4th Amendment right to cross the US border.

      As a condition of allowing you to cross the border, you are subject to search. It is as simple as that.

      All governments have always rightfully had the power to control traffic across their borders.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by FSWKU (551325)
        That would be all fine and good if it were as simple as saying "No, thank you." and going back the other way. Unfortunately, once you've landed, you are pretty much at the whim of the airport. If you refuse, you can't just hop back on the plane and go home. Not only would the airline have NO clue what to do with your luggage (as if they do in the first place), but security could probably then hold you suspect for failure to comply with procedures. If they end up doing that, your laptop will get searched any
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DigitAl56K (805623)
        So then the government is violating your freedom by preventing your travel.

        Also, the government could theoretically force you to waive my rights to do any number of things, why do you let them do it at the border? At the border, are Americans not American citizens on American soil? I could see invasive searches being reasonable at your destination, if it is outside the United States. The destination country is not subject to the US constitution.

        I don't accept the argument that "this is how it is, deal with
    • Re:4th Amendment... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:30PM (#23161648) Journal
      You have no fourth amendment rights while in your car either. Or as I found out on the day we pay tribute to the brave men an women who died in defense of our Constitutional rights, The cops will search your garage without a warrant too [slashdot.org].

      I wrote a piece about this [kuro5hin.org] a few years ago, it seems things are only getting worse.

      -mcgrew

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jason Levine (196982)
      You see, laptops commonly contain a dangerous substance known as Information. And Information just wants to be free. So the Information you keep couped up on your laptop could burst forth, whiz around the plane a bit (possibly injuring passengers) and then burst out of the plane causing catastrophic failure and severe loss of life. Help keep terrorism at bay by deleting all Information you find.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DrEldarion (114072)

      what on your laptop could possibly endanger an airplane?
      Sony battery.
  • by Wordplay (54438) <geo@snarksoft.com> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @01:59PM (#23161070)
    This should cause a nice bump for encrypted drive/volume software.

    It's a real shame this revolved around a kiddie porn case that hinged on the admissibility of the evidence. Nobody wants to let the kiddie porn guy go, so the chances of getting a good precedent here were probably that much lower.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rsborg (111459)

      This should cause a nice bump for encrypted drive/volume software.

      You do realize that OSX has a free built-in encrypted disk creation tool [apple.com] (Disk Utility). Yet another nice "sweetener" for mac switchers.

      I put all my personal sensitive data (tax, etc) in a disk image on my key drive. Looking for more "obfuscation" try this torn-cable usb drive [evilmadscientist.com].

  • Logically Different (Score:3, Interesting)

    by flaming error (1041742) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @01:59PM (#23161082) Journal

    Arnold has failed to distinguish how the search of his laptop and its electronic contents is logically any different from the suspicionless border searches of travelers' luggage that the Supreme Court and we have allowed," wrote Justice Diarmuid O'Scannlain.
    I think we've all forgotten something. The reason "suspicionless border searches of travelers' luggage" was initially allowed was to find bombs. I have yet to see a data file so explosive that it can take out an airliner.
    • by WaltBusterkeys (1156557) * on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:16PM (#23161418)
      You've got two different searches confused.

      The search of people flying on any flight is an "administrative search" to look for weapons. It is strictly limited to searching for weapons--if the cops see drugs they can bust you, but they can't look for drugs or evidence of any other crime.

      This is not the same search. This is the Customs search at the border and it has nothing to do with flying. Think about going through US Customs after you land in the US. The key is that it's after you've already landed. The government has always been able to look for drugs at US Customs, which has nothing to do with airline safety. (While a couple of kilos of blow might make your flight more entertaining, it's hardly the sort of thing that makes airplanes crash).

      There's a very important difference between pre-flight safety searches (applies to any flight, domestic or international) and customs searches (applies to any means of entering the country).
  • Be Prepared (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stavr0 (35032) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:04PM (#23161162) Homepage Journal
    Idiot got caught with child porn. Zero sympathy here. However it's a slippery slope.

    What about software, videos, MP3? What if they want proof of license? They could also decide to download your email inbox and address book. Why? Because They Can.
    I know what's going on my laptop next time I cross the border. TrueCrypt. That's what.

  • by IronChef (164482) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:09PM (#23161270) Homepage
    I'm literally angry with rage!

    If your laptop asks for a password at startup, can they legally compel you to provide it? If the court likened the laptop to luggage, I'd guess the answer is yes.

    Are there any whole-disk deniable crypto systems available?

    Enter password #1: Machine boots in to Windows XP Pro, stocked with a legal copy of Office and the Zune Desktop. Why, no one so boring could be bad!

    Enter password #2: Machine boots in to your real system, full of suspicious looking MP3s. Also, your Firefox homepage is set to Craigslist Casual Encounters W4M.
  • by pseudorand (603231) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:15PM (#23161392)
    So will they be hiring Hansel [imdb.com] to search computers then?
  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:17PM (#23161452) Homepage Journal
    Scene: Two bumbling customs officials at the International terminal departure area

    Inspector Jimbob: Hey Joe, this guy has a Linux box, how do I read the files?
    Inspector Joebob: Just click on the picture of a seashell and type "cat" and the name of the file.
    (several minutes later)
    Inspector Jimbob: I think we have a kiddie pevert here, I found a file that looks all encrypted.
    Inspector Joebob: What file is it?
    Inspector Jimbob: I did "cd /dev" like you showed me last week and there was this file called "urandom." I typed "cat urandom" and it's this huge encrypted file. See, it's still going. It must be kiddie porn. Or maybe it's a plot to kill the President. Yeah, that must be it, a plot to kill the President by giving him a heart attack by showing him kiddie porn.

    [end]
  • by sirgoran (221190) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:31PM (#23161676) Homepage Journal
    So as a parent, if I take a picture of my 6-month old baby girl in a bathtub, have the picture on my computer, and go traveling, I could be detained and locked up for child pornography? I'm sorry but I have little faith that our minimum wage earning security sloths will be able to tell the difference between proud parent images and kiddie porn.

    I seem to remember a similar situation at a department store photo department. The teenager running the picture printer saw pictures of a 7 or 8-year old bare-chested child with long hair (it turned out later to be a boy), thought it was kiddie porn and called the cops.

    I barely feel like they know how to do the job they have. Now were going to have them searching peoples laptops?

    This is just plain stupid.

    -Goran
  • by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:36PM (#23161762) Homepage
    Just keep you laptop loaded with a bloated Vista install. The 5 minutes login time should discourage the snoopy. Then keep your real Linux workspace on a bootable 8GB flashdrive.
  • Link to opinion (Score:5, Informative)

    by gothzilla (676407) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:52PM (#23161994)
    http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf/6D5D931898D8168188257432005AC9B8/$file/0650581.pdf?openelement [uscourts.gov]

    1. He was randomly chosen for secondary questioning. Perfectly legal and constitutional.

    2. He left the images on the desktop in a folder. They were not hidden.

    3. This cannot be a violation of the 4th amendment because it was a border search. Border searches have been challenged and found to be constitutional numerous times in the past.

    4. United States v. Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. 149, 153 (2004). Generally, "searches made at the border . . . are
    reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border . . . ."

    Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152. Therefore, "[t]he luggage carried by a traveler entering the country may
    4179 UNITED STATES v. ARNOLDbe searched at random by a customs officer . . . no matter how
    great the traveler's desire to conceal the contents may be."

    He made no attempt to conceal the images as they were left on the desktop, but even if he had attempted to conceal them it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

    5. Courts have long held that searches of closed containers and their contents can be conducted at the border without particularized suspicion under the Fourth Amendment. This includes items such as a purse, wallet, or pockets. A laptop is no different.

    6. Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152 (emphasis added), the Supreme Court has held open the possibility, "that some
    searches of property are so destructive as to require" particularized suspicion. Id. at 155-56 (emphasis added) (holding that complete disassembly and reassembly of a car gas tank did not require particularized suspicion).
    Since the search of his laptop did not require it to be damaged in any way, and the defendant also stated that his laptop was not damaged, it was again a legal search.

    The only way he was going to get away with this is if he had shoved a memory stick up his butt and made sure he didn't do anything that caused suspicion.
  • by itsybitsy (149808) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:52PM (#23162002)
    T.R.U.E. C.R.Y.P.T. D.O.T. O.R.G.

    LEARN TO USE TRUE CRYPT or another encryption system TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE PRYING EYES OF BIG BROTHER AGENTS WITH THEIR ARROGANT AGENDA OF PRIVACY VIOLATIONS. DOUBLE ENCRYPT (AT LEAST).

    From: http://www.truecrypt.org/docs/ [truecrypt.org]

    rueCrypt is a software system for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted volume (data storage device). On-the-fly encryption means that data are automatically encrypted or decrypted right before they are loaded or saved, without any user intervention. No data stored on an encrypted volume can be read (decrypted) without using the correct password/keyfile(s) or correct encryption keys. Entire file system is encrypted (e.g., file names, folder names, contents of every file, free space, meta data, etc).

    Files can be copied to and from a mounted TrueCrypt volume just like they are copied to/from any normal disk (for example, by simple drag-and-drop operations). Files are automatically being decrypted on-the-fly (in memory/RAM) while they are being read or copied from an encrypted TrueCrypt volume. Similarly, files that are being written or copied to the TrueCrypt volume are automatically being encrypted on-the-fly (right before they are written to the disk) in RAM. Note that this does not mean that the whole file that is to be encrypted/decrypted must be stored in RAM before it can be encrypted/decrypted. There are no extra memory (RAM) requirements for TrueCrypt. For an illustration of how this is accomplished, see the following paragraph.

    Let's suppose that there is an .avi video file stored on a TrueCrypt volume (therefore, the video file is entirely encrypted). The user provides the correct password (and/or keyfile) and mounts (opens) the TrueCrypt volume. When the user double clicks the icon of the video file, the operating system launches the application associated with the file type - typically a media player. The media player then begins loading a small initial portion of the video file from the TrueCrypt-encrypted volume to RAM (memory) in order to play it. While the portion is being loaded, TrueCrypt is automatically decrypting it (in RAM). The decrypted portion of the video (stored in RAM) is then played by the media player. While this portion is being played, the media player begins loading next small portion of the video file from the TrueCrypt-encrypted volume to RAM (memory) and the process repeats. This process is called on-the-fly encryption/decryption and it works for all file types, not only for video files.
    Note that TrueCrypt never saves any decrypted data to a disk - it only stores them temporarily in RAM (memory). Even when the volume is mounted, data stored in the volume is still encrypted. When you restart Windows or turn off your computer, the volume will be dismounted and files stored in it will be inaccessible (and encrypted). Even when power supply is suddenly interrupted (without proper system shut down), files stored in the volume are inaccessible (and encrypted). To make them accessible again, you have to mount the volume (and provide the correct password and/or keyfile).
  • by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @02:56PM (#23162040) Homepage Journal
    I am not allowed to show the files on my laptop to the customs agents due to HIPAA regulations. So I guess either I refuse, and go to jail, or allow them to look at it, and then go to jail once I set foot inside the U.S.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by esome (166227)

      I am not allowed to show the files on my laptop to the customs agents due to HIPAA regulations. So I guess either I refuse, and go to jail, or allow them to look at it, and then go to jail once I set foot inside the U.S.

      That's a good one. Here are a couple other hypotheticals that trouble me:

      1) I share my laptop with my wife when I'm home because we can't afford a second computer. She has her own account and I don't know any of her logins or passwords. The directory in which her files are stored is not accessible by me. Is this the same as if I had accepted a package from someone else or been asked to carry their luggage for them? What sort of trouble am I in if the security folks either can't get access to her files

  • by hacker (14635) <hacker@gnu-designs.com> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @03:13PM (#23162296)

    Might want to think hard about what's on your laptop if you're going to be passing through a US international airport.

    What's on my laptop is a 320 gigabyte AES-256 luks-encrypted [endorphin.org] LVM volume set sitting on an encrypted physical drive. This is unlocked using a 32-character passphrase which is not stored anywhere but in my brain. Without that passphrase you basically unpack a kernel and recognize the hardware... and that's it.

    I use Ubuntu on my laptop, and this is all configured out of the box on that distro.

    Requiring me to unlock my encrypted volume using that password immediately violates my 5th Amendment rights [gnu-designs.com], and is hence, unconstitutional.

    So once again, Privacy 1, Government 0.

    They seem to keep forgetting that it is the PEOPLE who gives the government their power, not the reverse.

  • Digital transport (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rmadmin (532701) <rmalek@ho m e code.org> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @04:14PM (#23163132) Homepage
    There is actually a pretty easy way around this. (Albeit, there are some variables that effect practicality). If I were to travel across borders and knew I had material I did not want seen (private photos? personal docs), I would simply sftp them some place safe and delete them from my hard drive. Once on the other side, I sftp my files back down. The border guards can search until the cows come home for all I care. Screw all that encrypted file system crap. :) PLUS, if my laptop gets broken or stolen, I don't lose all my important docs.

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