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Last post Author Topic: Strategies for international travellers regarding new US Customs seizure policy  (Read 28415 times)

TomColvin

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I've just read the rather disturbing post and comments at LIFEHACKER about the US Customs new authority to inspect and seize for no reason whatever any device capable for storing digital data, as well as any print material.  You can imagine the storm of commentary blazing all day long.

Anyway, this new focus fuels my recent interest in "travelling light."  I've been studying all the things that can be done via USB memory stick [or other small digital devices].  I'm also looking into switching over to Linux and the new, inexpensive ASUS mini-laptop.  But mostly I'm interested right now in the role of the internet, specifically "online desktops," online data storage, online applications and even the new Lenovo SafeBook, an inexpensive laptop with no hard disk at all.

What strategies might you use to avoid seizure/loss of data and computer?.

mouser

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It's a totally unacceptable situation..

I mean it's one thing to totally go through and copy your entire hard drive contents -- that's one whole universe of privacy invasion, but then the thought that they might actually take your computer from you for some prolonged period? Some of us live in our computers and this would just be devastating.

cmpm

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You could mail or ship your computer to your destination.
But you wouldn't have it on the trip of course.

I've heard of some people doing that with their luggage because Airlines often loose your luggage for a time.

mouser

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Clearly the only rational thing to do is go buy 5 laptops, and keep them always in sync.
Then on they day of your travel start each one on its way using a different route to your destination:
  • One laptop stays on your person and may be confiscated by a border agent who doesn't like your attitude.
  • One laptop gets packed into your luggage where it may be destroyed during inspection of your bags.
  • One laptop gets sent via normal mail where it will likely be smashed during trasnport.
  • One laptop gets sent via express mail where it will probably be misdelivered.
  • One laptop stays hope where you can remotely connect into it from an internet cafe.

cmpm

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lol...
i'd use fedex or ups i think
if i was to go the shipping route

kartal

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Some people love to defend these kinds of verdicts which is fine. But can you imagine if every country in the world actually passes such verdicts? This would be a devastating situation for those of us who would travel to more than one country a year. Every airport means possibility of illegal uncalled confiscation of personal belongings.

I also read that supposedly once you are cleared they erase the data. How are we supposed to know that the data is erased %100 anyways?

TomColvin

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Among the comments at LIFEHACKER, there are several posts that indicate that Customs has the authority to copy one's data and to pass it on to other agencies that might have an interest.  Personally, I cannot verify if that is true.

I travel a lot and personally have never had trouble with customs.  However, it is happening.  This year two American and one European friend have confronted data inspections.  They were shocked, as they have each worked for international governmental or non-profit organizations.  The European vows never to return to the US.

Sadly, I think all of us simply have to think through our own strategy.  My own strategy, I suspect, will be to carry some device that will get me online as I travel, and that device will contain no data whatsoever.  I'm not so much worried about seizure of data as I am about interruption of my work if I lose my computer.  Of course, this threat is probably even greater from thieves.  I gather this is the design behind the Lenovo SafeBook.

Shades

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I'm sorry to say but from here it looks like all the ingredients for the U.S. to become a police state are theoretically in place...and it starts to be practice as well  :o

For most Europeans the U.S. already lost it's charm as a traveling destiny (vacation).

TomColvin

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I've just posted to my blog an introduction to a series of posts that deals with protection and management of one's electronic devices and data.  Sadly, I think it's an urgent series [as I wistfully recall my childhood days when our family never locked the front door].

Let's face it.  The world has unalterably changed.

kartal

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I think that best is to not to carry anything. From now on I wont have any electronics on me except my mp3 player which wont have any data. Also this may discourage consumers from buying travel electronics as well, bad for business.

MrCrispy

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'terrorism' and 'child porn' - 2 magic phrases that the US govt (and the corporations who run it) can use to get anything they want, no matter how draconian, passed into law. Meanwhile, the people in this country are more concerned with reality television and watching talk shows while their freedom has been taken away. We deserve this for voting a criminal thug into power 2 times in a row.

mouser

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it was inevitable that this thread would get political, but let me remind people that we avoid all political party discussion here.  MrCrispy and everyone please refrain from such stuff, there are plenty of places to discuss politics and we try to keep this board free of it.

Discussing specific technology related policies is completely fair game -- but getting into an arguement about political parties is not appropriate here.

TomColvin

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Mouser, thanks for setting the guidelines straight.  I fully agree.

In the meantime, no one seems to have used the "online desktop" applications, such as www.ulteo.com -- and I'm still curious if one could really build one's computer life completely around online applications?  No assurance of data privacy of course, but would certainly alleviate the fear of confiscation or theft of hardware.

Has anyone really sat down and thought through thoroughly [gosh, what a string of words!] if there are sufficient online resources to go without desktop software?

Carol Haynes

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Sorry but the US is getting totally ridiculous as a destination for anyone (even Americans) ... I will never visit the US and I know a lot of Brits who won't go to the US. My decision was made when they decided they need my whole credit and bank record submitted before I am even allowed to fly to a US airport.

Can you imagine what would happen if other countries took this attitude with Americans entering their country?

My father was once crossing the Canadian border on the way home from Florida. As he crossed into Ontario there were a bunch on Americans going on holiday hunting and fishing in Canada - fair enough except that their vehicle was weighed down with firearms. They were having a flaming row with a Canadian customs officer (never a good idea as Canadians can drive anyone insane with their ability to remain unflustered while maintaining a polite 'sorry you can't do that'. What made my dad laugh was that they were quoting the constitution and their right to bear arms but they simply couldn't grasp that Canada was not the US and that the constitution meant diddly north of the border!

Can you imagine the mayhem if US travellers had their cell phones, laptops, camera cards etc. confiscated when the travel to another country.

Having criticised the US I can't help that the UK is going the same way - all you have to say is 'terrorism' and anything goes as far as the police and government are concerned.

What makes me laugh is if you get on a plane and say 'I am not a terrorist and I don't have explosives in my shoes' you are technically breaking the law and can be imprisoned on either side of the pond - just the word explosive or bomb (in whatever context) is enough to get you arrested and carted off for an indefinite visit to a dank hole!
« Last Edit: August 03, 2008, 07:35:07 PM by Carol Haynes »

Carol Haynes

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One thought on technology - has anyone in the security world even considered the possibility that someone could backup their laptop to an encrypted image file which is stored on a fast FTP server. Once you arrive at your destination you can simply restore the image. I really don't know why anyone would even bother looking at disc contents because anyone with any brains can easily avoid security at an airport.

Actually an image backup of a laptop would be pretty neat (if you ensure you have a recent model of laptop). If you get it confiscated just buy a new one in the US and restore the image and hey presto ... leave the laptop with a friend and next time you visit you don't need to carry one at all.

kartal

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Another solution could be having synced work environments. The applications below were created for virtual offices but they can be easilly used for syncing data across the globe.

http://www.collanos.com/

http://www.collaber.com/

kartal

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I have tried Ulteo desktop for xp. It worked very well surprisingly (except sound device).

For me data syncing and shared desktops are not viable because the kind of work I do and amount of data that is generated. Simplest project I do for my clients would create at least 2-5gb of data. I have over 100gb of personal and professional data I need to seriously back up regularly. On top of it I have a lot reference images, videos, my music collection and the applications I need to use which probably counts over 250gb easily. So trying to put stuff on ftp or web drives and syncing back is not a viable option to me because of upload and download times. Probably that would be the last route I would take.

So far I have found adrive.com to be best deal for such thing because they offer 50gb free already. I guess 50gb is a good start.

Many people swear by Amazon online backup but I never liked Amazon service because it would get very expensive due to  amount of data I need to backup it.

What would be the cheapest-the most optimal router for me?



Mouser, thanks for setting the guidelines straight.  I fully agree.

In the meantime, no one seems to have used the "online desktop" applications, such as www.ulteo.com -- and I'm still curious if one could really build one's computer life completely around online applications?  No assurance of data privacy of course, but would certainly alleviate the fear of confiscation or theft of hardware.

Has anyone really sat down and thought through thoroughly [gosh, what a string of words!] if there are sufficient online resources to go without desktop software?

Shades

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It starts to look like the only positive contribution from the U.S. to the world are the products from their film industry and/or music industry (depending on your taste and ability to live with DRM).

Somehow I get the feeling that most governments from the northern (and western) hemisphere are very afraid to lose control and will stop at nothing to gain more by playing their fear trump card over and over again.

Maybe I should start reading that '1984' book from Orwell...oh wait, someone is knocking on my door. Hold on one moment, I'll go and answ......;)

Carol Haynes

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It starts to look like the only positive contribution from the U.S. to the world are the products from their film industry ....

On current evidence most of that is now based in Canada (with Vancover and Toronto doubling for almost any US city).

cmpm

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As an American, I am aware of the downward spiral of privacy in this country, as well as it's own doings to get these laws in place to invade privacy at their will. It's a damn shame on us.

They can't see what I'm thinking though. Unless I tell them.
There isn't any technology to read my mind.
Except the obvious means to get me to talk.

But anyway...Tom. There are plenty of online deals.
Depends on what kind of info you need access to.

The major thing is their ability to confiscate your laptop at will, for no apparent reason. Which is not right. Anything on your computer could be sent to another in another country via the net. So their reasoning is flawed as well as the motives.

Shades

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Would it not be the case that if a lot of (read: too many) people start using online solutions like Ulteo that the U.S. government starts to issue court orders for those companies to hand over your data?

Better check the fine print then...or would it be better to use these kind of services that are not based in the U.S. or any country with too much (political) ties to the US?

Privacy matters to me. The thing is that when asked politely, I will disclose (almost) anythiing about my persona, state of mind etc.etc. without a problem. However, when you resort to laws to push me into disclosing whatever whenever you please...expect me to be uncooperative at best.

There is a (medieval) Dutch saying:"Zoals de waard is, vertrouwt hij zijn gasten."
A literally translation: "A owner of a motel/bar thinks that each of his customers thinks exactly like he does." It means that the owner isn't trustworthy, he expects that every guest is not trustworthy either...or vice versa of course.

TomColvin

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Well, we've got some interesting commentary going on.

I myself have been thinking through the implications of laptop seizure this afternoon.  And I'm beginning to come to some conclusions -- they have immense potential impact on software developers.

Let's say the US govt seizes my computer.  I do not live in the US, so getting it back would probably take forever -- and considerable expense.  Anyway, let's assume the government has my computer.

So then I buy a new laptop and try to reinstall my software.  OPPS!!!  Microsoft won't be happy.  I'll have to buy yet another copy of Windows.  And Microsoft Office?  Yet another copy.  [Have you ever tried to close down one computer and transfer Microsoft software to a second machine?]  And what all the other commercial and shareware software that allows only ONE installation on ONE machine to be used by ONE person only.  Sadly, that affects a number of my critical software programs.

So getting up a second machine can be sheer madness.

CONCLUSION:  I'm thinking seriously about abandoning Windows altogether.  I've bought too many copies of it over the years anyway.  I'm thinking seriously of buying software ONLY IF it allows installation on more than one computer.  Ideally, I'll use ONLY freeware and open-source software.  Or online applications.

I'll end up with a very slim laptop indeed.  And many deserving software developers will not longer recieve any business from me.

THOSE ARE THE IMPLICATIONS.

Shades

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@ Carol:
You're right about Canada as a replacement...or should I say: stand-in  :)

On a side note, when looking at the subtitles you will also notice that at least a part of the production company is based in Germany (that's where 'prodcompname GMBH' stands for). That country has some nice tax loopholes....eh laws for the international movie industry.

Which is also why Uwe Boll (notorious movie director from titles such as 'BloodRayne' and 'Alone in the dark') will not be without a job soon  ;D  

Shades

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Well, we've got some interesting commentary going on.

I myself have been thinking through the implications of laptop seizure this afternoon.  And I'm beginning to come to some conclusions -- they have immense potential impact on software developers.

Let's say the US govt seizes my computer.  I do not live in the US, so getting it back would probably take forever -- and considerable expense.  Anyway, let's assume the government has my computer.

So then I buy a new laptop and try to reinstall my software.  OPPS!!!  Microsoft won't be happy.  I'll have to buy yet another copy of Windows.  And Microsoft Office?  Yet another copy.  [Have you ever tried to close down one computer and transfer Microsoft software to a second machine?]  And what all the other commercial and shareware software that allows only ONE installation on ONE machine to be used by ONE person only.  Sadly, that affects a number of my critical software programs.

So getting up a second machine can be sheer madness.

CONCLUSION:  I'm thinking seriously about abandoning Windows altogether.  I've bought too many copies of it over the years anyway.  I'm thinking seriously of buying software ONLY IF it allows installation on more than one computer.  Ideally, I'll use ONLY freeware and open-source software.  Or online applications.

I'll end up with a very slim laptop indeed.  And many deserving software developers will not longer recieve any business from me.

THOSE ARE THE IMPLICATIONS.

Then Microsoft should hurry up with their SaaS (Software as a Service) project for people that have ties to Windows...and they should include dispensation for users that have their laptop seized of course.

40hz

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Sadly, I think all of us simply have to think through our own strategy.  My own strategy, I suspect, will be to carry some device that will get me online as I travel, and that device will contain no data whatsoever.  I'm not so much worried about seizure of data as I am about interruption of my work if I lose my computer.  Of course, this threat is probably even greater from thieves.  I gather this is the design behind the Lenovo SafeBook.

I wonder if the general public is as concerned about the civil rights aspect as we are?

I've been talking with a bunch of people about this, and the biggest bugaboo most seemed to revolve around was how inconvenient it would be to have their laptop seized rather than what such a seizure would imply from a civil rights perspective.

Even more alarming, I put the same question to a group of high-schoolers. Their general attitude was that "the government can just do whatever it wants and there's really nothing anybody can do about it."

At that point I had to ask myself what all the tax money I pay to fund a public school system gets used for when it produces disenfranchised attitudes and comments  like the ones I was hearing. Then it dawned on me - that is exactly what it's being used for.

Governments, both good and bad,  invariably do as much as they think they can get away with. And western democracies tend to believe that a lack of opposition to a policy or action constitutes de facto approval (i.e. "anybody who does not oppose us agrees with us"). From this perspective, the "will of the people" can be interpreted to include "the indifference of the people" as well.

So I think any strategy ultimately has to involve changing public awareness and attitudes. If you don't, then the government is merely following "the will of The People."

And isn't that what democracy and representative governance is all about?