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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2017

Academic advisor

AcademicAdvisorA.P. of Charlottetown writes
I am a Canadian citizen, heading to the United States for a conference. How can I protect my electronic devices from search and seizure at the border?

David Robinson answers
For a complete explanation, talk to a lawyer. But, for the purposes of this column, here is a general overview. First, in case your phone or laptop is seized at the border, back them up before leaving home. Second, the law sets a lower standard for privacy at borders than otherwise exists, especially for foreigners entering a country. Do not expect Charter of Rights type protection. Third, it is technically difficult to shield information stored on a device or in the cloud. Experts can often recover data you thought you had deleted and passwords can sometimes be guessed or circumvented. Fourth, actions you take to protect your privacy are likely to trigger additional scrutiny. Refusing to provide passwords for your devices or social media accounts? Suspicious. Travelling with a device scrubbed of data? Suspicious. Travelling with no devices? Suspicious. Because rights protection at borders is weak, any of these behaviours could result in you being detained for interrogation, your devices seized for examination, and your entry into the country refused. If you do encounter problems, be polite and truthful, and secure the ID of the officer. Difficulties should be reported from a safe distance (in Canada).