Screening electronic devices at the border - a need or violation of human rights?

    Checking smartphones and laptops at airports is becoming the norm for many countries. Someone considers this a necessity, others - an interference with personal life. We discuss the situation, recent changes on the topic and tell you how to act in the new circumstances. / Unsplash / Jonathan Kemper

    Border privacy issue

    In 2017 alone, in the United States, customs services conducted 30 thousand searches of devices, which is 58% more than a year earlier. In 2018, this figure increased, and legislative regulation changes to provide more and more wide powers for inspection. Not so long ago, US customs officers received the right to read private messages and even send this information to the border service servers - all without placing an order.

    In this case, it is impossible to guarantee the security of personal data from access by third parties. Literally at the beginning of the month, it became known that the database of the customs service was hacked. Photos and passport numbers of tens of thousands of travelers became the prey of attackers.

    At the end of May, it also became known about the new requirements for applying for an American visa. Applicants will have to indicate in the questionnaire data on accounts on social networks and personal phone numbers over the past five years. All information will be checked by special services. The situation with visas was already discussed in one of the materials on Habré.

    Check electronic devices not only on the US border. In China, customs officers watch correspondence, photographs, videos and documents entering the country to establish the purpose of the visit. A similar situation has developed in Canada - airport employees view posts on social networks, call history and browser.

    Pros and cons

    Any state considers the border as a source of increased danger. Customs and airline officials say that gadget searches are carried out for security purposes and “allow for compliance with laws in countries.”

    At the same time, experts note that the situation is not as bad as they describe. 400 million people cross the US border annually . However, only a few tens of thousands of searches of gadgets are conducted during the year, which is "not so much."

    It is believed that this approach violates the rights of people to privacy of correspondence. Two years ago, ten US citizens (among whom was a NASA engineer ) even filedto the court at the Ministry of National Security and the Customs Service. In their statement, they noted that the search for electronic devices at the border is contrary to the first and fourth constitutional amendments.

    Large companies, whose employees have to fly on business trips, are also actively against the “gadget searches”. They note that such practices can lead to the compromise of confidential organization data, as people increasingly use personal laptops and smartphones for work. Basecamp even developed a special checklist , which all employees of the company must follow when traveling abroad. It spells out the methods and tools that need to be used to protect information.

    “I have a negative attitude to any restriction of freedoms, and the right to privacy of correspondence is a fundamental right of any person. Compromise of commercial data that falls on employees ’personal smartphones is a serious problem that is becoming increasingly relevant, as employees are increasingly using instant messengers for business correspondence. Therefore, all companies need to pay attention to issues related to the security of corporate data.

    In 1cloud, we are developing information security policies for employees when working with personal devices - we will implement them and test them in the near future, ”comments Sergey Belkin, head of development department of IaaS provider 1cloud .

    / Unsplash / Erik Odiin Politicians also take

    initiatives to limit the powers of customs officials. Several U.S. senators have proposed a bill that will prohibit screening gadgets at the border without good reason. Similar calls for legislation are being heard in Canadian society.

    “I think that in the case of real interest, the special services could get access to the information they needed before (in one way or another, including without the knowledge of the user), and these new regulations only simplify the procedure and establish more explicit rules of the game, which should consider citizens when planning certain activities. If I were doing “something like that” that might be of interest to law enforcement agencies (of any countries), then my phone and laptop would not be included in the top ten devices where I would decide to store such information. The same goes for data storage in any public cloud services (regardless of their jurisdiction), ”says Alexey Boomburum .


    Use strong passwords for each service or application and log out of all accounts before crossing the state border. To protect with a password is the operating system itself. This will "play into the hands" in the event that the device is stolen.

    Back up your data and delete all sensitive information from disks using special utilities. You can use the open source tool BleachBit . It erases documents, cleans the browser and preview images of files.

    Upload data to the cloud, there they will be more secure. For example, in the US, border guards may inspect stored files on a device, but they do not have permission to verify data in the cloud.

    “In my opinion, the thing [screening gadgets at the border] is completely useless. Whoever has something to hide will store data, for example, on a server, where he will go with his password through a browser. Take a look around the gadget - it just will not be anything special.

    And to guess even that this server exists at all is simply impossible. Personally, I calmly relate to such things and somehow I am not particularly prepared. That’s what really annoys me is the tradition of some airports to require you to get a laptop out of your bag, ”comments Timofei Shikolenkov, founder of Two Sensei Online University .

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