Data Security and International Travel

I just found out that I’ve been accepted to present at this summer’s Digital Humanities Conference in Montreal. I’m really excited to be able to talk about the Digital Liberal Arts and Infrastructure, as well as the opportunity to be able to go back to Montreal, where I’m from. Except this year, going “home” isn’t going to be as simple.

We’ve written before here on ProfHacker on securing out data, but our most secure passwords won’t protect you if you are required to hand over said passwords when you’re crossing the border into the USA.

The first piece on securing your data appeared on my various social media timelines at the beginning of the month, when the threat was more hypothetical, and a response to the potential enforcement of an already-existing policy. But when a US-born NASA scientist had his phone and laptop searched, the advice came fast and furious. People who fly internationally to certain countries, and thus have been thinking about this issue for a lot longer, offered their advice. The New York Times (as it does) was ON IT and weighed in. The CBC examined Canada’s policies on the same issue of data security at their own borders (TL;DR – *Shrug*). And Cory Doctorow shared his thoughts and resources.

But the one that resonated the most with me (perhaps because it offered the most concrete advice right in the title): I’ll Never Bring my Phone on an International Flight Again. And Neither Should You. But if you do have to bring a phone (what the heck else am I going to do on a flight if I can’t play Candy Crush? Read? A book? REALLY?), then the author suggests that you wipe your phone before you fly/cross the border, then reinstall everything when you arrive. Same thing with laptops – the recommendation is to disconnect the computer from the cloud and delete/uninstall any apps that might link the computer to sensitive information. Another trick suggested was to set up two-step authentication on all of your apps, and then not bring the phone that those codes are sent to.

I’m not a US citizen but I also don’t fit the profile of someone who might be stopped at the border and have their laptop and phone analyzed. I also work in public higher education, which could flag me for further searches (as writing this post). I have been going back and forth between the US and Canada my entire life, but much more frequently since moving here in 2005. I’m honestly worried about this trip home (and back) this summer, and I’ve decided that I am going to take a “burner” phone with me, disconnected from the cloud, and then buying a SIM card when I get to Canada (which makes sense generally since roaming charges are THE WORST).

Are you taking any extra data security precautions for your upcoming international travel?

Photo Security by J. Ott licensed CC-BY 2.0

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