In our last article, we discussed what airport security and border agents can search on your phone, laptop, and social media. This week we outline what precautions you can take to ensure that your privacy is protected at the border. The key to protecting your privacy is to setup safeguards before you travel.
Here are some general tips:
1. Decide what information you need on your trip – If you do not need all your files and your personal devices on the trip, avoid taking your laptop or personal phone. Arrange to have a secondary laptop or phone that has only the essential information you need.
2. Backup your information on a cloud system – Before you return from your trip abroad, consider backing up your information on a cloud system. This way, you can have your information secured on a backup and minimize the information saved locally on your digital device. However, please note that border agents might get suspicious if you have a completely wiped laptop or phone, which may lead to additional questioning. You have to determine what is best for your situation. Decide what information you are comfortable traveling with. For example, if you wear hijab and you do not want your private photos searched, consider backing up your pictures on a secure cloud system.
3. Use encryptions – Encryptions makes information on your device look like code without the proper access key. Encryptions decrease the chance that someone can access your information without your knowledge if your device is lost, stolen, or seized.
4. Use Private Browsing Mode – Private browsing mode means that your internet browsing history will not be saved.
5. Delete Social Media Apps and/or Disable Automatic App Login – By deleting account information from your phone, this provides an extra step in protecting your social media information. At this time, border agents are not legally allowed to obtain your password information for your social media accounts. However, they can ask you to unlock your phone and if you have set your social media apps to automatically login, the agent is allowed to look at your social media account. Therefore, by deleting the social media apps or by disabling the automatic login, the agent cannot look at your private communications and posts, even if they have access to your phone. Also please remember, agents are allowed to ask for your username on social media; therefore, they can see your public posts. Please see our previous article for more information on what to say to agents if they ask for your social media passwords.
6. Turn off your device before reaching border control – By turning off your device, you can protect against programs that can bypass passwords to access digital information without your knowledge.
7. Use strong passwords – As with encryptions and turning off your phone, strong passwords help against programs that can break into your device without the password or your consent.
8. Change your passwords – Changing your passwords soon after the encounter with border agents can minimize the window of access and will allow you more control over when and how your information can be viewed. You can also use two-step password protection, which requires not only your password, but a code that is provided to a secondary device to log into your account. This way, the lack of login credentials is out of your hand if you do not travel with the secondary device.
9. Consult your employer – If you are traveling with a work phone or laptop, speak with your employer regarding company policies and guidance regarding protecting confidential information. Many companies provide secondary travel devices that have encryptions and other protections. Additionally, companies can provide notices printed on the laptops stating that the traveler does not have the right to provide passwords to the device as the information on the device is company-owned and privileged.
10. Do a Risk Assessment – Decide what precautions are best for you. U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (green card holders) cannot be denied entry if they do not provide information to the border control; however, as discussed in the previous Justice360 bulletin, border control can make the situation more difficult. People with temporary visas (such as student visas) can be denied entry if they do not provide information that is requested. That said, this does not mean that you do not have rights and that your information can be openly searched. It is imperative that you know your rights and that you take proper steps to ensure that your information is not abused.
By taking precautions to protect your digital information beforehand, you can ensure your privacy and, at the same time, ensure your peace-of-mind in avoiding awkward situations with border control.
If you have any travel questions, please contact us at www.ImmigraTrust.com and please subscribe to our Facebook page for updates!
--Najmeh Mahmoudjafari, Esq.
Najmeh is the Founder and Lead Immigration Attorney at ImmigraTrust Law, an immigration law practice in Orange County, California, representing individual and corporate clients in all 50 U.S. States and internationally. Najmeh can be reached at Najmeh@ImmigraTrust.com.
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