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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
Numerous 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 be meaningless.
- 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.
Finger Prints, 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 they upgrade, they get more memory and transfer more history from their old devices to their 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.
What you are going to have to do is to leave your daily-use digital devices at home.
Digital Devices 2
From now on you will carry only the bare-bones hardware that you need. For example, an iPad and a Huawei phone. Your iPad will connect to a straw iCloud account that is bare-bones and is not your regular one. Your Huawei will have only the phone numbers of your office, home and a couple of restaurants where you have business lunches.
Everything will have been paid for in cash or through your company account. Nothing will tie to your credit cards. The SIM for the phone will be one which you purchased for cash and without identification or, at worst, will tie to your company.
Memorize your iCloud account information. Use that information to download everything else that you need.
Once through the border and in your hotel room, you can connect your iPad to your main iCloud account and then download the business information and any apps (e.g. WhatsApp and Skype) that you need. Before leaving the country, you will upload all of the data back to the cloud and then reset your iPad and erase everything. Then you will connect the iPad to your innocuous iCloud account.
You will handle your Huawei Phone similarly.
Digital devices love the cloud. You probably have at least ten cloud accounts of one sort or another 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. 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.
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 them with entries every day so that the investigator gives up before getting to what you want to conceal or can’t distinguish the important from the dross.