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How to Keep Border Guards From Reading Your Laptop

How to protect your data privacy at the U.S. border

Did you know that U.S. immigration agents can seize your laptop, cellphone, digital camera and any other electronic devices at the U.S. border, no justification required?

The U.S. government's ability to search citizens at the border without a warrant is nothing new -- it dates back to the 1977 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Ramsey. But as digital technologies become more prevalent, this so-called "exception to the Fourth Amendment" has come under renewed scrutiny.

"The problem is, now people bring with them a lot more stuff — not physically, but digitally," said Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group based in San Francisco.

"Computers, cellphones, tablets have lots of information," Fakhoury said. "The issue becomes: Do the prior justifications of a broad searching authority still extend to [the contents of] digital devices?"

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The answer to that question remains unclear. For now, there's no way you can prevent the feds from getting the gadgets if they want them — but you can make sure none of your sensitive data can be read.

Of course, the No. 1 way to safeguard your digital privacy is to not bring any digital devices with you to the border. But for many people, going without laptops and mobile phones is just not an option.

Here are some suggestions for what you can do to keep your sensitive data close to hand, but safe from prying eyes.