Here’s the scene… you’ve just landed and are making your way through immigration. Bleary-eyed and a bit disoriented, the portly fellow behind the desk singles you out for ‘secondary screening,’ and you are whisked away to the catacombs of the Customs service.
At this point, it really doesn’t matter what country you’re arrived to… until you clear customs and immigration, you’re in no man’s land. For customs officials, anything is fair game, including laptops and personal effects.
I have written before about this practice by the US Customs and Border Protection agency, but frankly just about every government in the world reserves similar powers to protect its borders against the terrorist and criminal elements.
Computers can be confiscated, inspected, and even copied in order for immigration agents to make a determination whether or not to let you in the country. It doesn’t normally happen very often, at least in civilized places… but the mere possibility is enough to make me want to take some precautions.
One very elegant solution that I have discovered is through diplomatic channels. There are nations, for example, which actually sell appointments to official diplomatic posts, such as Ambassador or Honorary Consul.
According to the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, an official diplomatic bag, which would include a laptop briefcase, shall not be opened or detained by foreign inspectors, even when the diplomat is merely in transit.
In other words, the convention allows diplomats with official credentials to enjoy freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure, even in immigration no-man’s land.
Official diplomatic programs are perfectly legal… though not exactly well-advertised. Prices range from $25,000 to over $100,000, depending on the post and the country of issuance.
Get in touch with me if this sounds interesting and I can point you in the right direction.
Another solution to protecting your information is to use a software package that will lock down your hard drive against unauthorized access.
I recommend TrueCrypt (www.truecrypt.org), which comes in both a Mac and Windows version. It’s free, and one of the best encryption platforms out there.
TrueCrypt will create a ‘virtual encrypted disk’ that will completely secure your hard drive, or an external device like a USB drive. It even has the ability to create a ‘hidden’, encrypted operating system so that when you turn on your computer, a ‘dummy’ system will be displayed, and the real system will be hidden beneath it.
If this sounds scary, try TrueCrypt out on a external device like a USB memory stick. You can back up important files on this device and lock them down like Fort Knox.