How to get past customs without surrendering your digital privacy

“When Ryan Lackey travels to a country like Russia or China, he takes certain precautions: Instead of his usual gear, the Seattle-based security researcher and founder of a stealth security startup brings a locked-down Chromebook and an iPhone SE that’s set up to sync with a separate, non-sensitive Apple account,” Andy Greenberg reports for Wired. “He wipes both before every trip, and loads only the minimum data he’ll need. Lackey goes so far as to keep separate travel sets for each country, so that he can forensically analyze the devices when he gets home to check for signs of each country’s tampering.”

“Now, Lackey says, the countries that warrant that paranoid approach to travel might include not just Russia and China, but the United States, too — if not for Americans like him, than for anyone with a foreign passport who might come under the increasingly draconian and unpredictable scrutiny of the US Customs and Border Protection agency,” Greenberg reports. “In fact, US Customs and Border Protection has long considered US borders and airports a kind of loophole in the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections, one that allows them wide latitude to detain travelers and search their devices. For years, they’ve used that opportunity to hold border-crossers on the slightest suspicion, and demand access to their computers and phones with little formal cause or oversight. Even citizens are far from immune.”

Wired has assembled the following advice from legal and security experts to preserve your digital privacy while crossing American borders,” Greenberg reports. “On your phone — preferably an iPhone, given Apple’s track record of foiling federal cracking — set a strong PIN and disable Siri from the lockscreen by switching off ‘Access When Locked’ under the Siri menu in Settings.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: “Preferably an iPhone.”

Those who value their privacy use Apple products.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “David G.” for the heads up.]


  1. basics crossing any customs stop:
    1. offer NO opposition to The Man – freely allow their perusal – life’s too short and you ain’t a lawyer or a celebrity
    2. iPhone with international SIM card, replenishable
    3. no locally stored passwords, contact, calendar, bookmarks, or personal documents- -all on throwaway iCloud / Dropbox or equivalent account
    4. token few _dummy_ contacts, calendar entries, music, photos stored locally to erect minor misdirection smokescreen away from where full repository resides – that stuff you staunchly protect and refuse to share
    5. never use public wifi except for web browsing, NOT email or any online purchases. Even then the man-in-the-middle exploits can insert malware web pages into your browser.

    1. I was making my own defense strategy and yours echoes a lot of my thoughts.
      I didn’t think to get an international SIM. I thought I’d put in my Thai SIM. Your idea is better, not to give them even that foreign prepaid phone number in Bangkok.
      Is best place to get int. SIM at Their SIM is $19.

  2. Current US president is a big fan of deep backdoor access. It will become increasingly more challenging for Apple to continue to defy requests for that backdoor.

    As for border crossings, This seems to be very new. I can’t remember hearing of ANYONE ever being asked to unlock their iPhone (or computer) and hand it over to the border agents upon arrival at the US border. The first such case that I’m aware of was less than a week ago, when a US-born scientist at NASA by the name of Sidd Bikkannavar (US citizen) was held at border, questioned, and demanded to unlock the phone. They kept holding him until he gave in, after which they took the phone away and brought it back some 30 minutes later. The guy has been previously thoroughly vetted by NASA before even getting that job, plus he was enrolled in the CBP’s “Global Entry” programme, where CBP conducts “extreme vetting” on those who apply, and once vetted, they can cross into the US with their passport and fingerprint without further checks. And yet, he was treated like a potential terrorist. Most chillingly scary was the seizure and rummaging through his iPhone (which actually wasn’t even his; it was a work phone from NASA, which he immediately turned over to NASA’s IT for forensic inspection, just to make sure CBP didn’t put anything on it).

    I can understand people’s paranoia about terrorists coming into the US, especially with the incendiary rhetoric by the president, but the threat from terrorists actually entering the US legally via a border is practically negligible compared to home-grown radicalized Muslim youths. It is virtually certain that zero terrorists will be foiled form entering US by these inspections, but meanwhile, the freedoms that the Americans are so proud will have be long gone by then…

    1. Actually, it was a couple years ago that the SCOTUS made a ruling that the Customs and Immigration offices are out of bounds for Fourth Amendment exclusions/restrictions on search and seizure — even for U.S. citizens. I don’t remember the case or exact date, but it was two or more years ago.

      1. Got to wonder what double-twisted, rationale of mental and Constitutional legal gymnastics they offered up for that one.

        “The Constitution governs everything about how the U.S. federal government works… except this little part over here. You know… for reasons.”

    2. To be honest, I’ve noticed little to no change at US borders over the last 40 years. It’s inconsistent to the point of absurdity. I have dual US/UK citizenship which makes for a different experience depending on which country you are entering the US from. From Mexico(via Guyana and Colombia) I got the full treatment including the dreaded “bend over ” twice in one year; from Canada, they just waive you through unless you’re on the west coast where they took the lining out of my luggage; from any Caribbean island, full search and many hours delay, from UK direct, it’s politeness personified – except when it isn’t. Generally if you enter the US from ‘any’ country other than your origin, you will get hassled, xenophobic comments and insults, pointless questioning, arbitrary checks for no other reason than “we can”, confiscation of equipment which can take up to a year to reclaim, deliberate destruction of property such as films(ah, those were the days) in scanning machines turned up to max “because we can”. It’s always been inconsistent and deeply unfriendly even for me.
      I was inbound from Iceland on 9/11 and was rerouted to Montreal where we were kept locked up at the behest of US officials for three days because one of the passengers was Moroccan.
      It’s not a friendly place to enter and never has been in my experience even if you work for a US company with business abroad and have citizenship rights.

      1. What a great personal post, thank you for making it. I’ve made one trip to the States after 9-11, and yes what a difference. Since then I’ve avoided entering the country, taking alternative plane routes. After hearing what you have been through I’m glad I did.

    3. “practically negligible compared to home-grown radicalized Muslim youths”

      And definitely negligible compared to the danger of US right-wing terrorists.

      And microscopic compared to the danger of products pushed by the psycopathic owners of US corporations. Their kill rate makes ISIS look like a bunch of Sunday School teachers.
      (For just one example — “Yes. We finally admit – the whistleblower is correct. We knew tobacco was adictive and we knew it was killing hundreds of thousands of people.”)

  3. US Customs has been getting ever more aggressive with digital devices. Their authority has been interpreted as anything within 100 miles of the US Border, so it is not just at checkpoints that they can seize devices.

    I own property at Point Roberts, Washington which is an exclave of the US. There is no land connection to the rest of the US except through Canada. Unless you have a boat or a plane the only way to get there is by road through the US border. Otherwise, every time you go anywhere ( the Point is only a few square miles ) you are subject to the whims of the border patrol. With The Big Cheeto in charge, that could get to be a big damn hassle.

    1. Careful. Any US border crossing, including Customs at any airport, is considered to be a line between ‘outside’ the USA and ‘inside’ the USA. For US citizens, there may well still be lawsuits over this assumption and accompanying law. But that’s what we have for the moment.

      But as such, a US citizen who has not yet gone through Customs is considered to still be ‘outside’ the USA. As such, they don’t, supposedly, have their US constitutional Fourth Amendment rights:

      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.

      I find this to be utter rubbish as anyone outside of the USA entering a US embassy IS AUTOMATICALLY afforded their Fourth Amendment Rights along with all the others.

      In any case, there is no challenge to a US citizen’s Fifth Amendment rights, even at a US ‘border’:

      …nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…

      IOW: US citizens CANNOT be compelled to unlock their ANYTHING that may, in their opinion, incriminate them of any crime. Dumbasses like FBI Director Comey have attempted to negate this US citizen right and entirely FAILed.

      As for NON-US citizens: You’re SOL. You have none of the rights of US citizens. Hand it over, etc.

        1. Bless Ron Wyden!

          IMHO there is no question on the UNconstitutional nature of such search and seizures of US citizens. Apparently, we’re in for another court battle right on up to the Supreme Court. I can’t imagine any Supreme Court, stacked or not, would be so callous and FUD-mesmerized as to allow these illegal search and seizures to continue.

          Meanwhile, here’s a place where ever ‘patriotic’ American should be upset:

          The number of electronic media searches at US borders jumped dramatically from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016 under the Obama administration, according to a senior official at CBP speaking with reporters.

          Obama’s administration pulled some outrageous violations of both US and international law. It’s been continually shocking to me that Obama claimed to be a US constitutional scholar and professor while pulling so many UNconstitutional manoeuvres on We The People. Shameful. 😛

    2. The AP had a story on this today.

      These searches are still rare, but they are increasing spectacularly. It appears to have gotten worse in the last month, as individual customs agents have felt emboldened by changes in Washington.

      The position of Homeland Security is that a noncitizen has not entered the US and acquired any statutory or constitutional protections until he has been approved for entry by an authorized agent. Noncitizens in the border zone who refuse to allow searches or provide all the passwords necessary to decrypt all the data on their devices can be—and are being—denied entry. That includes journalists who need to keep their sources confidential.

      Entering U.S. Citizens, and not just dual-nationality folks or travelers to “suspicious” countries, are increasingly being issued the same demands. In their case, they cannot permanently be denied entry if they refuse to provide the passwords, but they can be detained and interrogated for an extended period, subjected to intrusive searches, and so forth. Their devices can be seized for forensic analysis (just as a suitcase can be searched). They will be returned at a time and in a condition that is essentially at the Government’s unbounded discretion.

      The AP story discusses the case of a U.S. citizen who was subjected to all that when he was LEAVING the United States.

      Increasing number of international travelers are leaving their phones at home and buying a disposable in their destination country that they can trash before they return, just to avoid the blatant violation of their rights and dignity.

    1. It was there before Trump.
      I know it first hand. My phone and my wife’s phone was taken away. After an hour (or two) they bought back the phone and let us pass. It was like nazi’s were at the border. That was seven years ago.

      1. You are right. Funny how the progressive liberals want to blame conservatives or anyone right of center of trampling peoples’ rights. Gee, I wonder who was president when Edward Snowden came out to reveal about NSA tracking?

  4. Too bad the author did not provide the other popular way for at least one nation to get past customs. Just show up with a lot of guns. A lot of military murderers did that in Iraq between 2003 until now and managed to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Yes, that’s hundreds of thousands of innocent people butchered by gutless military cowards of a putrid nation that invaded on totally imaginary hallucinations.

    Of course I can’t find any mention of civilian deaths caused by Iraqi’s and no one seems to be able to find that iWMD (imaginary weapons of mass destruction) program but hey, they get past customs without surrendering their digital privacy. The author should have made some mention of that.

    1. Now, now. Let’s not surf the propaganda! Iraq was all about the Israeli Secret Service manifesto to bring chaos to the Middle East, particularly Iraq. This manifesto was fulfilled in the USA by PNAC, the Project for the New American Century (William Kristol and flunkies like Cheney), who became the majority of the George W. Bush cabinet and of course Vice President. They didn’t need ‘facts’. They just needed the drive to LIE to the public, no matter what, in order to fulfill the Israeli manifesto.

      Yes, people of the future. Not everyone in the USA sucks on the teat of putrid propaganda fed to us by Mother Fourth State and their ventriloquists.

      1. However was behind it did a great job on most people, when it comes to putting these folks above the law it’s mission accomplished.

        Thanks Derek, it’s people like you that make me hope that one day your country will fix their moral compass.

  5. The US gummint, in cahoots with the corporate media, have done a bang-up job of spreading FUD, which has led to the current Fear State we inhabit.

    We Mercans are at greater risk of being killed by furniture / appliances in our homes than anything remotely related to “terrorism”.

    1. Would you mind explaining why you think anybody has to resort to the reported conduct (invading the privacy of people who have no conceivable connection to terrorism for no apparent reason) nowadays or any other day?

      1. Not sure what you mean but I don’t want any government snooping through my phone, computer, etc. They could plant shit, who knows? Maybe I just watch too much TV. But then again, do you really trust them?I don’t.

        1. Sorry. I read you as saying that the Government had to resort to such searches, not that it is sad that private parties have to resort to such stratagems to avoid search. There are certainly other people out there who think that treating individuals crossing the border like scum is socially acceptable. I mistook you for one of them and I apologize.

    2. Imagine that you are an attorney, an accountant, a doctor, or any other professional who has a legal duty of confidentiality towards your clients. Ditto for journalists, who also have an ethical duty (legally recognized in some jurisdictions) to keep their sources confidential. Generally speaking, disclosure of confidential material to any third person waives the privilege as to all other parties in a legal proceeding.

      For example, if you talk with your client in a crowded restaurant where the guy in the next booth can overhear the conversation, you lose the right to assert professional-client confidentiality in any civil or criminal case where the opposing party seeks the content of the discussion. Same result if you discuss client matters on a party-line telephone (if any still exist).

      I can see the argument being made that transporting client information across the U.S. frontier knowing that it will be read by third parties is also a waiver of evidentiary privilege.

      With this stuff going on, no travelers can be sure that their digital device is safe from Government prying without even token obedience to notions like reasonable search, probable cause, judicial warrant, or constitutional rights. They can take your device and search it essentially at will. Yes, the agents are supposed to be looking just for material that is relevant to whether you should be admitted, but if they come across any other incriminating material in the course of their search, it is fair game.

      If you, Mr. U.S. Citizen, gave them your passwords because the only alternatives they offered you were 24 hours in a cold holding cell after a body cavity search, the courts will hold that you waived all of your rights because you consented to the search.

      Even beyond that, these searches certainly risk harmful disclosure of information that is not relevant to any governmental purpose if the person who reads your iPhone does not realize that the information is confidential and gossips about it, or _does_ realize it is confidential and uses it for insider trading or extortion.

      This is a big deal. Journalists and their sources have been killed because their notes were not kept secret. Lawsuits and criminal trials have been lost because information that should have been confidential actually wasn’t. Fortunes have been lost because proprietary information leaked.

      As MDN often points out, either we have personal privacy or we don’t. Invasions of privacy are evil (except under certain circumstances well defined in the Constitution), whether the intrusion is conducted by the FSB, WikiLeaks, or the United States Government.

    1. I was just about to post that. I wonder how a border agent would react to the “Welcome to your new iPhone” setup screen. 🙂
      Thinking it through I wonder if I could wipe my iPhone and then set it up again as a brand new “empty” phone without wifi connection? I don’t remember if I can use my LTE data when setting up and doing the Activation step against the Apple servers. Or does LTE only work after it activated ?
      This is just curiosity, if I seriously felt I needed to do this I’d just wipe and reset it at home, leaving it un-restored while going through customs. I hope it never has to come to that!

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