Anyone who regularly travels to the United States will be familiar with the stringent border control. Unfortunately for regular travellers, this is only set to get worse thanks to new vetting processes that came into play in the wake of Trump’s controversial travel ban. In addition to banning passengers from keeping any electronic device bigger than a Kindle in the cabin, new digital checks are taking place at border control. In some instances, passengers are being asked to hand over passwords for their phones, laptops, email and social media accounts. For business travellers, this presents a problematic situation.
If you regularly travel with a work laptop or phone, chances are your company has a fairly strict policy about keeping the data you carry with you safe. Anyone familiar with Computer Security 101 knows that handing over your password to anyone in any situation is a big no-no. Even if there is nothing incriminating on your devices, by handing over your passwords, you are also giving border control access to the people you communicate with. This can lead to a breakdown of trust between companies and clients.
From a legal perspective, there isn’t much you can do in terms of standing your ground if you aren’t a US citizen. While US citizens have a right to enter the country, visitors are required to prove to border control that they should be let in. This means complying with their requests, which can include handing over passwords. If you refuse, it could be seen as an attempt to conceal something, and the border agent has the right to refuse entry.
So, what’s a person to do to protect their privacy? The most obvious choice is to travel light and leave your devices at home, but this isn’t going to be an option for most business travellers. The best way for business travellers to protect their privacy is to transfer any and all data to a secure cloud storage account and then clean up the devices before travel. There’s a legal grey area around what is and isn’t on your person while you travel. If your files are safe on the cloud, there’s no obvious way for border control to know where to look.
If you do have to hand over passwords, this information can be saved for up to 75 years, so the first thing you do when you clear airport security is to change your passwords. Alternatively, you could change your passwords to something highly secure and unmemorable before leaving. If you don’t have a password manager on your phone, it will be an extra barrier to preventing border control from accessing your data. However, this can be seen as a subversive measure that could raise further suspicion.
For the foreseeable future, anyone travelling to the United States should be prepared for enhanced checks, so a little more preparation might be needed before takeoff to protect sensitive information.