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How Canadians Can Prevent U.S. Border Agents From Searching Their Computers

Tips and tricks to outsmart American officers.
Senior Editor
How Canadians Can Prevent U.S. Border Agents From Searching Their Computers

Canadians have almost no rights at the United States border.

American agents can search your car and electronic devices without a warrant. To be fair, Canadian agents can do the same thing. But given political developments in the United States, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency in particular is becoming increasingly aggressive.

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Impending recreational marijuana legalization and a recent list from the Trump administration that details all the ways Canada screws the U.S. definitely don't help the situation.

To help Canadians navigate border policy, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association released an Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook. The Handbook compiles information from all reports of invasive border searches.

Below is a list of tips for Canadians to prevent American officers from accessing information on their phones and computers:

Leave your phone and computer at home

This is obviously the best way to prevent officers from accessing your devices. Possession of more than one device per person is also considered suspicious behaviour.

Back up your data

Backing up your data and then deleting it off your phone is a sneaky but safe way to ensure border agents cannot access your information. If your phone or computer are taken, you also retain all of their content.

Completely delete your information

According to the Handbook, this does not mean moving files to trash on your computer. To completely delete data, you will need to use special apps available on most softwares.

Password protect everything

In the best case, agents unable to open your phone or computer will simply return it. In the worst case, they could seize your devices for several months or even take them apart if they can't open them. The Handbook also recommends strong passwords made up of random words.

Turn off your phone and computer

Alarmingly, agents can hack the information on your devices if they are on. Terrifying.

"Use two-factor authentication"

So that opening one device will require authetication on the other device as well. Of course, this will only work if officers only take either your phone or computer.

Use "full-disk encription"

Disk encription converts information into illegible code and is available through special apps. Though, again, a disgruntled agent who can't access your information may just never give back your device.

Put all sensitive information into a single file

According to the Handbook, border agents are directed to avoid personal information like legal and medical files. Separating this information could expedite a search if it the other seven precautions on this list don't work.


    Thomas MacDonald
    Senior Editor
    Thomas MacDonald is a Senior Editor for MTL Blog focused on Montreal public transit and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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