U.S. Border Agents can take and copy your laptop, for no good reason.

This story is one that is both a bit frightening, if you happen to travel to and from the United States, and incredibly stupid on so many fronts, it’s downright laughable. Let’s start with frightening . . . Michael Willems, in his Unreasonable Man blog, led me to an interesting and scary story regarding US border searches. this CBC article. You should still read it, but here’s the short version.

In order to protect us, the United States government has given its border guards the power to seize your notebook computer, cell phone, digital planner, documents, pamphlets, hard drives (you name it), etc. They can then make full copies of this information in whatever form it takes, and share it with a number of government agencies. Keep in mind as you read this that they do not need just cause to do this, nor do they even need to suspect you of anything. At a later, more convenient time (to them, not you), they can look over the information, presumably to uncover terrorists, but also to “. . . help authorities detect possible instances of terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography and violations of copyright and trademark laws.

Narcotics smuggling? Yeah, copying the contents of my notebook will really help there. You might want to check the carry-on. While the guards keep themselves busy invading your privacy, did you happen to notice the last two bits of reasoning for this, if not illegal, certainly amoral, search? Violations of copyright and trademark laws. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Oh, I feel a lot safer now.

Here’s why this all so incredibly stupid. Knowing this policy is in place, any self-respecting doer-of-evil would take a blank notebook to the states — not blank, but freshly reinstalled — then download their data back onto the system from a Website where they uploaded it prior to their journey. That’s what I would do. Upload my questionable data (movies, music, etc) to a trusted server, fly to my destination, then reload it when I got there. The same is true for my documents. PDF files store nicely on Web servers. Paper documents? Why? Make copies, convert to electronic format, and upload. Repopulate your notebook when you get to where you are going.

If I truly were a criminal, these measures would threaten to make me collapse from convulsions related to uncontrollable guffaws. Seriously, they make great fodder for a standup comic. Except it’s not funny. Let me replay you those last few words again; “”. . . and violations of copyright and trademark laws.” Now ask yourself who these security measures are really meant to benefit.

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