I'm kind of appalled by this quote from a government official

And when the intrepid and sharp-eyed agent spots the hidden anagrammatic message:

Overran if told/vile radon fort/nadir of revolt/do rant for evil/for a Dr. Violent

you’re bagged at Customs and the days are numbered for your hitherto-nameless boss, this “Dr. Violent.”

Oh, you were clever, my friend. But not quite clever enough for the well-trained, razor-sharp and utterly dedicated employees of the Homeland Security Department.

Or, better yet, data can be hidden in the low bits of images (in this case, use a lossless compression format rather than jpg).

My recollection is that the French are notorious for using “security” as an excuse for economic espionage in such cases.

Why have them on your laptop at all? Upload the terrorist documents to a file server, go through customs with your halo on, then hit the internet and download?

*Missed the edit window: I see what I said has been said.

But, really, is this any more or less useless than banning lighters, making 2 year old kids take their shoes off, banning nail clippers, and full sized toiletries?

I have no idea what Israel does. Never been there, and i’m not an authority on their customs and immigration security protocols.

Firstly, though, i was under the impression that Israel’s reputation for incredibly tight security regarding air travel involved screening people before they get on the plane. I’m unaware of any program they might have regarding the bringing of electronic devices into the country.

Secondly, i would expect that Israel, as a country whose major terrorist problem in recent years has been individuals entering the country on buses with bombs strapped their chests, would focus more of its security resources on preventing that sot of thing than on pointless searches of business travelers’ cellphones and laptops.

Anyway, at a fundamental level, i’m not sure your question is even relevant. I don’t care who else does it, or doesn’t do it; if it’s for-show, busy-work bullshit that doesn’t increase actual security, then it’s stupid whether it’s done by one country or a dozen.

No, no it’s not.

But i thought all that was useless bullshit too. The fact that this latest idiocy has considerable precedent doesn’t make me feel any better.

But what about actual secret stuff that you want to keep secret?

Like a design for a new computer processor?
We should let Homeland Security duplicate that “just in case”.

What about Americans doing business travel to other countries? Should they be allowed to duplicate all business documents they want ‘for security reasons’?

Stored encode in the file structure that the hard disk used, would be even better. It wouldn’t show up on any opened file.

Burned into the Bios of a device like all the programed code has had for years, would be beyond these inspector’s scope.

Use a program like TrueCrypt.

A friend of mine recently had his laptop LCD destroyed by TSA agents who demanded that he give up his password to his MacBook at a security line after he checked his luggage for a domestic flight. He was not traveling internationally and these were not customs agents - they were TSA.

The agent demanded that he divulge his password to them after the MacBook had been through the x-ray. He refused, and they took the laptop to another room for a ‘closer inspection’. When it was returned to him, the LCD was smashed. He complained and was told ‘You have no proof that we did it.’

If you can’t overnight your stuff ahead of time, encrypt it with something like TrueCrypt.

It has long been demonstrated that the public at large is in favor of bullshit time-wasting privacy-invading “security” measures that accomplish nothing, because time spent being interrogated over tweezers and iPods is apparently directly proportional to feelings of safety. Until such time as the average person is not a complete idiot, this is unlikely to change.

That still leaves the question, though, of what exactly the TSA expects to find on the Terrorist Laptops. The ban on liquids I understand; someone might bring a Diet Coke, and no one should ever have to be exposed to that. Searching your papers, sure; after all you might have some money, and that would just be terrible. Computer files, though? Did the 9/11 hijackers receive their instructions from Bin Laden in PowerPoint format? Are customs officials hoping to score an Excel spreadsheet with names of terrorist leaders in Column A, with corresponding addresses in Column B? Would Al-Zawahiri’s browsing history show “www.myspace.com/bombingplans” (now with over 200 friends in the Middle Eastern region!)? Or is this just the next logical step up from turning on your laptop to make sure it’s not a bomb, since everyone knows high explosives aren’t bootable?

Hell, maybe irrationality is the key. The goal could be to make our customs procedures so incomprehensible that the terrorists won’t know what the fuck we’re checking for, and they’ll get so confused that they’ll just give up altogether.

Splendid, truly splendid! It will not discomfit the real bad guys in any meaningful way. If a bunch of dumbasses like us can figure out how to fuck this over in about three posts, I don’t think it presents an insurmountable problem to the terrists.

What it will do is hassle, vex, and annoy thousands of people who come to America to spend money/do business, activities you might expect us to be anxious to encourage. Rather than making them swim the length of an Olympic pool in warm glue.


Not searching at all. Really and truly, what is there to be gained? (That’s not rhetorical.)

Searching electronic data is security theater at its worst.

Am I reading this correctly when I understand the above to mean that the US government does not need a warrant or justification of reasonable suspicion or probable cause to open private letters addressed to a US citizen but coming from outside the US? e.g. a letter to me from my brother in Switzerland?

I would think that your story would tend to discourage people from encrypting the contents of their hard drive.

BTW, on Macintosh OS X, encryption of your hard drive is built into the operating system. In System Preferences go to the Security section and turn on FileVault.

Standing up for your rights is not always the easiest path to take. Maybe you want to sacrifice the right to be secure in your person, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure, but I don’t. Even if it means pissing off some TSA agent who thinks that I don’t have the right to refuse a voluntary search of the contents of my laptop (which oversteps the bounds of the TSA’s authority - they are tasked with determining whether or not said laptop is a bomb and that is all), I will defend my rights.

There is encryption built into Windows XP as well, but I am an advocate of TrueCrypt because with it, there is no way to tell which level of encryption is the deepest, or if there even are multiple levels. It is possible to give one password if under duress that unlocks some innocent files like a picture of your cat or something without them ever knowing there is another hidden volume of data.

There’s encryption…and there’s encryption. I choose to use TrueCrypt.

[slight hijack]
As a former Microsoftie I must say a couple things:

  1. The encryption available in virgin XP is file-based encryption, which has one fundamental flaw - if you can boot into the OS, or boot into alternate media, then you can overcome and decrypt the data. Add-on features like TrueCrypt go further and give end-to-end drive encryption that is prove against this. Or a hardware fix, such as drive enclosures, that do the end-to-end encryption on a HD basis. But native support will only protect you so far
  2. Vista has a better encryption method, called BitLocker, which has 2 advantages - native end to end drive encryption, and the ability to have either a motherboard-based encryption chip holding the keys, or an external encryption key (like a USB key) to hold the key.
  3. I don’t know much about Mac’s native encryption, so I can’t comment there.

The TSA are a bunch of power-hungry thugs who are performing security theatre. I regularly fly to airports alll over the UK and Europe, where they’ve been actively dealing with much more direct and real security threats than the average US airport, and they’re both more professional, and more casual, than the TSA’s jackbooted thugs. Someone told the TSA that they were “The Front Line in the War on Terror” ™ (c) and now they think they’re the rough equivalent of Navy SEALs, NYPD, and NYFD all rolled up into one.

Recent trip back to the US provided some high theatre, with the TSA goon shouting at a BA aircrew member for crossing through the (empty) roped-off lanes by cutting through them. The BA guy had left one of the ‘tapes’ forming the lane unhooked and the TSA goon was demanding the BA guy go back and fix it. When he finally did, the TSA dipshit threatened the BA staff with ‘not making his flight’ when the cabin crew guy said - “Don’t worry, I think they might hold the flight for me.” The BA guy was standing right next to the BA flight’s captain, co-pilot, navigator, and all the rest of the flight crew. This TSA goon happened to be an 18 year old girl who clearly loved the way she could boss people around, and it made me sick to watch.

“Dear sir, the information contained in your letter to your brother is not correct. We do not open letters.”

Not if you’re planning to go to Canada on your trip, however. (Just to reassure you that your customs people aren’t the only ones that can be total dipshits.)