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In America there is the Bill of Rights, or something like that, which makes it very unlikely that a personal computer could be investigated without good reason.

It's the fourth amendment to the us constitution

The right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and
seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but
upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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In America there is the Bill of Rights

You have the Patriot Act now which gives the government the power to do pretty much what they want. As I posted earlier in this thread, here's what the Revised US Guidlines say. As the customs officials are confiscating your laptop because they don't like your demeanor just see how far you get shouting "fourth amendment". I almost got turned back at customs for having an apple. I mean the fruit kind, not the computer kind.

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Here's an article about why we don't let just anyone bring anything across our borders. We've had too many problems with people knowingly or unknowingly bringing diseased agriculture products here. And some states do not allow fruits to be brought across state borders. I recall 40 years or so ago my mom and dad took a trip to Arizona and a border guard took her orange she was eating!

Edited by Ancient Dragon

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Contrary to what you might think the Patriot Act did not replace the 4th amendment -- the 4th amendment is still alive and well. What it did was give the government broader powers to search and seize.

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The following is taken from the article I referenced titled Laptop Searches at the Border: What the Revised U.S. Guidelines Say

U.S. Customs officers have the authority to search and detain any device capable of storing electronic information for any reason; they can examine the electronic device without the traveller present; they can copy from the device or “detain” the device; and they do not need to obtain the traveller’s consent to conduct the search. “Electronic devices” can include computers, BlackBerrys or similar devices, cell phones, travel drives, DVDs and CD-ROMs, cameras, music and other electronic media players.

The fourth amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. If the customs officers now have the authority to search and detain any device capable of storing electronic information for any reason then the new guidelines have apparently nullified the fourth amendment. My apologies if I confused this with the powers granted by the Patriot Act.

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That's why I said "at the risk of having your computer confiscated". You can always claim you don't know the password (and there are legitimate reasons why you might not), but customs can then refuse to return your computer.

You can do even better than pretending to not know the password. You can give a password that seems to decrypt your private data without really decrypting your private data. Knowing that, it makes the whole idea of asking people to give up passwords seem futile. Confiscating computers from people is also futile, since anything that is seriously encrypted is completely impossible to decrypt without the password. The most you can hope to accomplish is to deprive the terrorists of the use of one device.

By your reasoning, they shouldn't bother looking for weapons either because a really clever person would find a way to get one on board.

That might be true, but I can't claim credit for reasoning it out. I personally can't think of a 100% guaranteed plan to get a weapon onto a plane without being detected by a search. I mean, you can make encryption 100% secure at virtually no cost, but what could you do theoretically with unlimited resources to get a weapon on board a plane? A completely lifelike false limb? Whatever the technique, it would be very difficult, unlike encryption which is very easy and requires no cleverness.

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Confiscating computers from people is also futile

If the point is trying to decrypt your data, then yes. If the point is to coerce you into giving up the password or punishing you for refusing to do so, then no.

Whatever the technique, it would be very difficult

These days one can always make something that will explode. If the security people are checking shoes then you make exploding underwear. Now that we can 3D print guns out of resin people will be sneaking those on planes. It's the Red Queen's race.

As for encryption, Truecrypt offers a hidden, undetectable encrypted container in a container. But as I said, if your laptop is suspicious (or you are) your laptop can be confiscated without reasonable cause.

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As for encryption, Truecrypt offers a hidden, undetectable encrypted container in a container. But as I said, if your laptop is suspicious (or you are) your laptop can be confiscated without reasonable cause.

It's even worse than mere unreasonable cause; it's more like malice toward innocent people. Innocent people are the only people who wouldn't take steps to protect themselves. Naturally many innocent people would use caution, but people who are truly carrying illicit information would always take every step to protect themselves, including steganography to make their encrypted files look like ordinary files. Innocent people will sometimes have encrypted files, and since you cannot trust any password offered to truly decrypt the file, the encrypted file will always be suspicious. Then there is the random junk in the unused portion of the disk; there might be an encrypted file in there somewhere, and not even waterboarding will get an innocent person to give up the password for the unused portion of the disk. Only a true espionage agent would make the effort to clean up the unused portion of the disk.

In other words, if a laptop looks suspicious it must be innocent, and if you confiscate it you are persecuting the innocent while letting the guilty pass freely.

Edited by bguild

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I wonder if it's better for a frequent traveler to store private stuff on the cloud (Sky Drive, iCloud) and access it via the internet at the destination.

Edited by vegaseat

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