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Old 2008-04-27, 15:14   Link #1
Apostle_Kyon
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Border Crossings and Laptop Checks

OK, I'll be studying abroad in Europe later this year and will be bringing my laptop which has mp3's and Anime (currently licensed) on it. I've heard that they can check your laptop at border crossings.. maybe I'm paranoid but I don't want to get in trouble for having these sorts of things (I don't have hentai or anything of that sort on there.) Has anyone ever had their laptop searched when crossing national borders?

If I move these files onto DVD-R's or flash drives, are they legally allowed to search those as well?
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Old 2008-04-27, 15:43   Link #2
Slice of Life
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So far I've only heard that about the US Customs but I won't rule that out. Sadly you can't rule anything out anymore these days. In any case, I doubt that they are interested in Elfen_Lied_01.mkv to Elfen_Lied_13.mkv though. Might be helpful to know where (which country) you are entering the EU. Once you're inside Schengen space that's pretty much all of continental Europe there are no border controls.
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Old 2008-04-27, 15:43   Link #3
Wervy
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When you reenter the country they can, and most likely will check. Flash drives, mp3 players, flash and normal media are all fair game, and if they dont have time to search them they will make copies. Dont bring anything that you dont want added to some goverment file on you, use online storage and leave no trace of it on your laptop.

Expect the people checking to be quite stupid, you may need to hold their hand through these checks. If there is anything they dont understand expect it to be seen as somthing bad, so try and keep anything you say at the level a retarded high school drop out could handle.
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Old 2008-04-27, 15:53   Link #4
Ledgem
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Consider using TrueCrypt for very sensitive information; I believe that as of the latest version you can even encrypt your entire drive. If they're determined enough the government will probably be able to get through the encryption, but it'll take them a lot of time... and in the end, unless you're a Middle Easterner or somehow look suspicious/have a suspicious name, they won't be interested.
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Old 2008-04-27, 15:57   Link #5
Slice of Life
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Originally Posted by Wervy View Post
When you reenter the country they can, and most likely will check. .
I don't know where to Apostle_Kyon is reentering but if it's not North Korea it is most unlikely that his data will be checked at all. How much time and man power do you think it would take to check only one airbus full of people even only to "make copies" to see later on if the word.exe is in reality a love letter by Osama Bin Laden?

I would worry about having a car accident on the way to the airport. This is much more likely than your laptop getting scanned in Europe or back at home even if this happens at all.
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Old 2008-04-27, 15:58   Link #6
Apostle_Kyon
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Originally Posted by Slice of Life View Post
So far I've only heard that about the US Customs but I won't rule that out. Sadly you can't rule anything out anymore these days. In any case, I doubt that they are interested in Elfen_Lied_01.mkv to Elfen_Lied_13.mkv though. Might be helpful to know where (which country) you are entering the EU. Once you're inside Schengen space that's pretty much all of continental Europe there are no border controls.
I'll be going to Switzerland which is scheduled to be included in the Schengen space in November.. 2 months before I arrive.

As a last resort, I might just open a bunch of Gmail accounts and store thing there to be accessed remotely.. though I'd much rather do w/o my anime than sit through uploading several Gigs at 128Kbps..
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Old 2008-04-27, 15:58   Link #7
Wervy
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Yea, but if they see TrueCrypt on your system at all they will ask you to put your password in and copy all your data regardless.
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Old 2008-04-27, 16:04   Link #8
Slice of Life
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Originally Posted by Apostle_Kyon View Post
I'll be going to Switzerland which is scheduled to be included in the Schengen space in November.. 2 months before I arrive.

As a last resort, I might just open a bunch of Gmail accounts and store thing there to be accessed remotely.. though I'd much rather do w/o my anime than sit through uploading several Gigs at 128Kbps..
As I said, I wouldn't worry. Worst case I would realistically expect is that they ask you to boot the laptop to see that it really is one. And that before you enter the plane.

Wervy, I don't like to repeat myself but think for a second about how long it takes to copy only one medium-sized hard disk.

Must have been a big mistake that nobody ever copied my anime.
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Old 2008-04-27, 16:09   Link #9
Ledgem
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Originally Posted by Wervy View Post
Yea, but if they see TrueCrypt on your system at all they will ask you to put your password in and copy all your data regardless.
Slice of Life is right; unless the confiscate your system (which they may do), they're not going to dump the contents of your HD. If they confiscate it, they're not likely going to ask you for your password unless they charge you with something.

Also, read up on TrueCrypt's functions. This is a bit more advanced than just password-protecting your computer for login. Suppose you encrypt your entire drive - this'll prevent them from being able to access anything by doing a regular HD copy. You can further encrypt directories within that directory, and make hidden/false directories. Again, if the NSA is onto you they likely know about all of these tricks and can crack them, given enough time and computing power. This sort of encryption will prevent the average guy from going through your things and/or the average corrupt official from doing things you'd prefer he not with your data.

That aside... "if they see truecrypt they'll ask for your password"? I'd be surprised if the average border patrol agent even know what Truecrypt is! I remember hearing a story a year or two ago about how the agents were suspicious of one guy's computer because when it booted, it booted Linux, not Windows. Apparently they didn't know that a computer could run anything besides Windows. Really technical lot we have there.

I forgot my main point: don't worry about anime and MP3s. I'd encrypt things like personal correspondances (email), personal documents, and other such data. I don't think they'll care about fansubs.
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Old 2008-04-27, 16:24   Link #10
Wervy
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Border agents are idiots, but being informed about trucrypt is somthing that have known about for months since it started being used by most people. The purpose of checking a laptop (through the windows search function and explorer usualy) makes it pretty obvious when you have large parts of your hard drive inaccessable. Saying you wont enter your truecrypt password is the same as saying you wont log into windows, somthing they wont give you a pass on.

The way people are talking here its like they are compairing how the checks are done within the country with how they are done when you are entering it. Of course the checks are done more completely when your coming from outside the country.
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Old 2008-04-27, 16:28   Link #11
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I recently went to the US from Canada and brought my laptop with me. I had been told that they may check it, but I highly doubted that they'd copy all 250GBs as I and many other people with laptops (there were a lot of businessmen on the flight) waited in line. They just visually inspected my laptop to make sure that it's not a bomb since I'm middle eastern and other people's laptop to make sure that they didn't look suspicious.

If they were looking for any secret documents or information then they'd have to check every portable electronic device which can hold information, such as cell phones, PDAs, mp3 players, CDs/DVDs, etc.

And I'm not surprised that the agents didn't know about Linux. I've had someone tell me that they wanted Windows instead of Vista on their laptop...
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Old 2008-04-27, 16:35   Link #12
Ledgem
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Originally Posted by Wervy View Post
Border agents are idiots, but being informed about trucrypt is somthing that have known about for months since it started being used by most people.
Come on, Wervy. First, most people don't even know about Truecrypt. Second, do you really believe that? Did you hear how one guy was pulled over because he had a Macbook Air and the security agents didn't think it could be a real computer? For crying out loud, a MACBOOK AIR, it's only been advertised and put on billboards virtually everywhere! You don't need to be a geek to have known about it! Finally one security agent apparently came up and did have some knowledge of it and gave the guy a go, but I think he missed his flight over the ordeal. Slippery slope argument here, I know, but if they don't even know about things like Linux or new and widely advertised products, you think they'll have wide knowledge of something like Truecrypt?

Quote:
The purpose of checking a laptop (through the windows search function and explorer usualy) makes it pretty obvious when you have large parts of your hard drive inaccessable. Saying you wont enter your truecrypt password is the same as saying you wont log into windows, somthing they wont give you a pass on.
Windows search function - that's laughable. I don't see how that's going to help them at all, and I don't believe that they use it. If they do and you've seen it, then I'll tell you: it's not going to help them. What do you search for? "Bomb"? "Children"?

I'm also going to call you on your statement that it's obvious when large parts of the HD are inaccessible. What do you think happens, an error message comes up saying "this is encrypted, enter password"? No, nothing comes up. Unless they try to access an encrypted file/directory directly, they'd have no idea that encryption was in use.
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Old 2008-04-27, 16:45   Link #13
Wervy
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Ledgem I am simply speaking from my experence entering the states and that of those who have shared theirs. I dont really care what you would consider an effective screening since your not the one doing such things. Of course they are going to do what they consider the quickest way to get you where your going, and if you dont do as your told they will do what they are trained to do.

I dont know why your making this a issue. Have you even been through a screening yet?
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Old 2008-04-27, 17:11   Link #14
xris
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I would side with Wervy here. Encrypting anything is just going to be a waste of time and potentially might create more problems than it could solve. If noticed (yes, I know it is a big if) but if noticed it's going to be like waving a big flag saying "I've got something to hide".

The chances of being stopped is minimal.
The chances of having a laptop inspected is minimal.
The chances of the person inspecting the laptop to recognise a fansub is minimal.
The chances of the person inspecting the laptop to know what an encrypted file looks like is minimal but if they just so happen to know, then you are putting yourself in a worse situation.

As far as I'm aware, they are allowed to ask you to provide passwords or access to any secure file, if you do not comply then you are in deep stuk. But again, the chances of this happening is somewhat low to say the least
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Old 2008-04-27, 17:20   Link #15
kayos
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Would it be possible to just have it mailed out to you?

Edit: Just to save space.

I don't think customs really care much about your mp3s. If you're worried about your anime collection, why not rename them into an unlicensed one.

For example Elfen_Lied_01.mkv to Amatsuki_01.mkv. I don't think they'll waste their time previewing it for it's title.

Last edited by kayos; 2008-04-27 at 17:48.
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Old 2008-04-27, 17:32   Link #16
Ledgem
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wervy View Post
Ledgem I am simply speaking from my experence entering the states and that of those who have shared theirs. I dont really care what you would consider an effective screening since your not the one doing such things. Of course they are going to do what they consider the quickest way to get you where your going, and if you dont do as your told they will do what they are trained to do.

I dont know why your making this a issue. Have you even been through a screening yet?
Yes, I've been through airport security countless numbers of times and I've been through the Canadian border twice and the Mexican border once. I was not put through security checks at the Mexican/Canadian borders (with the exception of the drug and people detection dogs sniffing around the cars at the Mexican border), although we had a hassle with the Canadian border due to my father's citizenship status at the time. No physical property was searched.

At all of my airport travels, which include domestic and international flights (including through Israel, where the security was a bit higher) nobody ever asked to turn the computer on. I know it happens, but generally you lay the computer on the X-ray scanner and that's it. I've had TSA go through my check-in bags and rifle through belongings, but I have no reason to believe that they ever powered systems on or copied data.

Does it happen, yes. And you'd better be thinking about effective screening because TSA has been taking a lot of flak for the delays that they've been causing at the airport. It's nonsensical to think that they'd make a person wait for 2-3 hours while they copied the files from their computer. It doesn't matter whether I consider it effective or not, the fact is that if they're taking too much time and if they're making people miss their flights, and the complaints derived from that is something that the agency would like to avoid.

I'm not doubting that some members of the agency might try using Windows search, as nonsensical as it is, but I'd like to point out again that there's no way that they'd be able to tell that you were using encryption if you were even relatively discreet about it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by xris View Post
I would side with Wervy here. Encrypting anything is just going to be a waste of time and potentially might create more problems than it could solve. If noticed (yes, I know it is a big if) but if noticed it's going to be like waving a big flag saying "I've got something to hide".

The chances of being stopped is minimal.
The chances of having a laptop inspected is minimal.
The chances of the person inspecting the laptop to recognise a fansub is minimal.
The chances of the person inspecting the laptop to know what an encrypted file looks like is minimal but if they just so happen to know, then you are putting yourself in a worse situation.

As far as I'm aware, they are allowed to ask you to provide passwords or access to any secure file, if you do not comply then you are in deep stuk. But again, the chances of this happening is somewhat low to say the least
I agree with your analysis on how the chances are low, but I have to disagree with the idea of the uselessness of encryption. The idea that it's a flag stating "I'm doing something wrong" is a very dangerous idea. I can understand where people get it from, but don't let that stop you from using encryption. Different countries have different laws regarding whether you have to give up passwords; read into it depending on where you travel. Know your rights.

In worst-case scenarios, people have been stopped at borders and had their computers, cellphones, and other electronics confiscated. This is, in my opinion, where the encryption is very much worthwhile. People have complained that they didn't receive their electronics back from the government, even though they were told that they would. Where did those systems go? If you trust that the government has them locked up, good for you. Unfortunately for me and those like me, we've read plenty of stories of how government laptops and other devices containing sensitive data were stolen from various government agencies. If the government agencies themselves are losing their own devices, what makes you think they're being any more careful in keeping track of your devices? Even if you trust that low-level government agents are above going through your computer and copying the files that they like (which numerous employees of Best Buy's "Geek Squad" [computer repair team] have been found to do), how do you know that your device won't be stolen from the government by criminals and that your data won't be abused there?

It sounds paranoid, I know, but as the saying goes it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. If you only have fansubs and some MP3s on your computer, you're probably not at risk. If you have pay sheets, sensitive documents, passwords, and any other such things on your laptop, it's your responsibility to yourself to make sure that it's guarded as best as possible. I'm willing to spend some extra time if they pull me over to examine my laptop and explain that it's encrypted if it means that my data is just that much safer from those who have no business with it, or worse.
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Last edited by Ledgem; 2008-04-27 at 18:46. Reason: Clarity on the last 2nd to last paragraph
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Old 2008-04-27, 18:19   Link #17
escimo
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Do they actually check the contents of laptops even randomly at border crossings?
Back in the day when I owned a laptop I flew around Europe with it a couple of times and it never so much as crossed my mind that someone might check it's contents. They just x-rayed it separately.

I think the big-brotherism is getting a bit out of hand here.

On a side note a quite easy and effective way to "encrypt" data you don't want to come up in a quick random check is to partition your hard drive into two and simply remove the drive-letter of the other partition. I doubt that at a random check they'd go through the trouble of actually checking the model of the hard drive to ensure you haven't done that. Easily done in windows 2000 and later releases.
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Old 2008-04-27, 18:43   Link #18
Sepiraph
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Truecrypt also has a hidden volume function so they can't tell your true hard drive size. If you are really paranoid about your laptop's content you can install Linux (or boot it off LiveCD running some pure CLI distro), I'd be surprised if the border guard would even know what the heck it is.
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Old 2008-04-27, 18:52   Link #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sepiraph View Post
Truecrypt also has a hidden volume function so they can't tell your true hard drive size. If you are really paranoid about your laptop's content you can install Linux (or boot it off LiveCD running some pure CLI distro), I'd be surprised if the border guard would even know what the heck it is.
Yeah but based on the posts above you might be marked at "suspicious" because they don't know what Linux is.
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Old 2008-04-27, 19:08   Link #20
Apostle_Kyon
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sepiraph View Post
Truecrypt also has a hidden volume function so they can't tell your true hard drive size. If you are really paranoid about your laptop's content you can install Linux (or boot it off LiveCD running some pure CLI distro), I'd be surprised if the border guard would even know what the heck it is.
Heh.. I'm actually running Linux if it helps.. have shunned MS for almost 2 years..
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