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We are interrupting our information series on the impact of money laundering controls on legitimate businesses to deal with a subject that has become increasingly urgent to many of our customers, and that is protecting their private information when traveling. We shall complete the money laundering series shortly.
Protecting Your Private Information During International Travel
Many businessmen have become worried about the increasingly intrusive nature of border inspections. Border security agents are beginning to treat information with the same level of concern as they do physical weapons. That concern is understandable but too often it leads to invasions of privacy that are not warranted. Furthermore, they can easily lead to the leakage or loss of critical commercial information or reveal embarrassing private facts. Governments should not act in these domains, but we’ve made it easy for them. So they do it.
When you cross into a country, there is no limit to the amount of information border control agents may demand. Your very first line of protection is to be normal in every possible way. Act as a businessman, a tourist or a relative. Don’t draw attention. Don’t project an aura of being special.
Answer questions matter-of-factly. Tell the truth. Don’t joke.
If they select you for further questioning, you’ll go to a separate interrogation room. They are being paid for the time they are there. Meanwhile, the loss of time is costing you money. You want to leave quickly. They want overtime pay. They will use your impatience against you.
When they finish asking you questions or perhaps before, they will ask to look into your laptop and phone. Of course, they will tell you to provide the passwords. Now the trouble starts. As an international traveler entering a country, you have no rights. You are at the mercy of the inspector in front of you. You have two rational choices and one irrational:
- Give up your passwords and give them the keys to your life.
- Give up your passwords and let them find nothing useful.
- Try to fight them.
We encourage option two. Give them the passwords to unlock your devices and any applications on them. Just ensure there’s nothing important for them to see.
Fingerprints, Pattern Tracing and Iris Scans
None of these are as effective as the old-fashioned password for protection – if you create a good password and change it from time to time.
As a matter, of course, you should have your devices set for complete encryption of all the data on them whether you are at home or on the road. Then, if you have any concern at all that your device may be lost, stolen or compromised, you should be certain to use a well-formed password to protect it.
Invisible Information is the Best Defense
When you cross a border, take the minimum necessary information with you. Fortunately, in the twenty-first century, you can transport minimal data easily. On the other hand, ferreting out your secrets is easier than ever, too. Especially if you aren’t careful. There are several data storage areas you need to be aware of; border agents certainly are.
- Your digital devices
- The cloud
- Social media
Let’s cover these in a bit of detail:
Digital Devices 1
There is virtually no possibility that you know what data can be found stored on you digital devices. Poor programming practices and lazy habits ensure that practically everyone has far more information on their devices than they can imagine. Every time we upgrade devices, we get more memory and transfer more history from our old devices to our new ones. Oftentimes it is buried so far that we don’t even know it is there. And if we don’t know it is there, we certainly can’t remove it. Some of it may be embarrassing. Some of it may be incriminating.
On top of that, as almost anyone with even a slight bit of computer literacy can tell you, erasing things doesn’t actually erase them. Generally, erasing just changes the first character to let the system know that space is available, but all the rest of the information is still there if it hasn’t been overwritten. Destructive erasure is possible with modern operating systems but it is slow and not one hundred percent certain.
Your best option is to leave your daily-use digital devices at home.
Digital Devices 2
From now on, carry only the bare-bones hardware that you need. For example, an iPad and a Samsung phone. For communications, set up your iPad to connect to a straw iCloud account that is bare-bones and is not your regular one. On your Huawei, keep only the phone numbers of your office, home and a couple of restaurants where you have business lunches.
Pay for the equipment and cloud accounts in cash or through your company account. Do not use your credit cards. Purchase the SIM for the phone using cash and without identification or, at worst, use your company account; your concern isn’t anonymity, it is their collection of your personal information.
Memorize your cloud account information. Do not write it down. You will use that information later to download everything that you need.
Once in your hotel room, you can connect your iPad to your main Cloud account and then download the business information and any apps (e.g. WhatsApp and Skype) that you need. You can then proceed about your business as normal.
Before departing the country, you will upload all of the new data to the cloud and then reset your iPad to factory specs and erase everything. Then you will connect the iPad to your innocuous straw iCloud account.
Handle your Samsung or other phone similarly. Each manufacturer handles data erasure differently. The iPhone is probably the most convenient and secure – you simply go to General->reset->Erase all settings and content, tap on that and you are done. Rather than erasing the data, the iPhone erases the codes that are used to encrypt every bit of data on the phone. So, although the data is there, no one is going to read it.
Digital devices love the cloud. You probably have at least ten cloud accounts of one sort or another without realizing it, and some of us have acquired hundreds. There are a variety of ways to track the passwords for them including through special password apps, through your digital device operating system or some manual system of your own. Once your iPad and phone are set for travel, you will connect your iPad only to your straw account. Your straw account will contain real information but not information that you wish the border agents not to see.
This may be your biggest problem if you have been putting information on your social media that you would prefer that the border security agents not know about. They will check the most popular social media sites. Using your name and variants of it. They may also do a search of the Internet using your photo and Google’s image search function. If you don’t want everyone in the world to know something about you, don’t put it on the Internet.
If you are able, you can try to clean up your social accounts, but generally, there’s not much you can do. What’s done is done. You can start flooding your accounts with entries every day so that the investigator gives up searching before getting to what you want to conceal or can’t distinguish the wheat from the chaff, but, in general, if you’ve put it on line, if they are sufficiently interested in you, they will find what you are trying to hide if you maintain your account.
It is possible to request Facebook to completely delete your account. Once that is done, you’ll never be able to access it again. You can find information on how to delete it here. If you still want a Facebook account, you can then create another account under a different name.
These steps are designed to protect you as you pass through borders, but you may find them useful for day-to-day work in some police states. Depending on the country you will be entering, you may find that you need to augment these steps, but they form a solid basis for travel throughout most, if not all, the world.