Protect Your Privacy While Traveling

Erick Widman

With holiday season quickly approaching, we’re often asked how to protect data and devices while traveling internationally. If traveling wasn’t already an exhausting process, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has reported a five-fold increase in the number of electronic media searches at the border. No matter your profession or status, electronic devices these days contain private and sensitive information, such as credit card details, health records, private conversations, and much more. Before you pack your bags, we have five simple but effective tips to protect your devices and at your data privacy while in air or on the road.

Keep Copies of Your Important Documents

There is nothing more stressful than getting to the airport and realizing you misplaced your wallet. With that in mind, we can not stress enough the importance of making copies of documents while traveling. It is even more difficult when you realize you are now without your passport, credit cards, health insurance card, and/or driver’s license. Make copies and keep them in a safe place separate from your wallet. You can travel more enjoyably knowing that you have backups with you in case your belongings get lost or stolen.

Limit Your Devices

This may seem like common sense, but the fewer devices you keep with you while traveling, the less likelihood you have of having your privacy breached. Before your trip, evaluate what devices you truly need to bring with you. Whether it is limiting your smart devices (phone, laptop, or tablet), or only bringing devices that contain little to none of your private account information, you will find traveling safely a lot easier.

Set Up Two-Factor Authentication

Two-Factor Authentication, otherwise known as 2FA, is a multi-layer security system for your devices and your apps. While the traditional form of authentication (username and password) is what we typically believe to be secure, reports have found that this may not be enough anymore to protect your privacy and data. If you own an iPhone or have a gMail account, you may have noticed that you are already participating in 2FA. To find Two-Factor Authentication for more of your devices or accounts (such as Outlook, Facebook, Instagram and more), we recommend using Authy, which provides guides for the aforementioned accounts and more.

Download a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN secures your device’s internet connection to guarantee that all of the data you’re sending and receiving is encrypted and secure from prying eyes. It is able to do this by setting up a network of devices which are linked together over a public network, most commonly the internet. There are a number of options in terms of VPN’s to download. Performing an internet search to decide which one best fits your needs will be incredibly useful in the long run.

Know Your Rights (At the U.S. Border)

Even with all these tips provided, agents may still ask travelers to unlock their devices, provide their device passwords, or disclose their social media information. This is unfortunately a no-win situation. If you, the traveler, agree then the agents can look through and copy your digital information. If you decline, then the agents can potentially seize your devices and escalate the encounter.

Border agents cannot deny a U.S. citizen admission into the country. However, if a foreign visitor refuses to allow a search, an agent may deny them entry. If a lawful permanent resident declines, agents may raise complicated questions about their continued status as a resident. Your response to this dilemma may vary, but all travelers should stay calm and respectful, should not lie to border agents or physically stop them, and should plan ahead of time. Try to document or politely ask for the names, badge numbers, and agencies of the government officers you interact with.

Flex Your Attorney-Client Privilege

Creating a folder on your device labeled “Attorney Conversations” that contains your privileged information, documents, and records can assure you an extra layer of security. This is because all communication between an attorney and their client is “privileged,” or protected from nosey border agents.

As always, let us know if you have any questions or concerns about how to protect your privacy at the border! Our number is (503) 427-8243

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