Traveling and Privacy

International travel is getting trickier.

If you're planning to travel internationally, be prepared to take special precautions with your digital devices and the information you've got stored in them. While there are certain countries that have always been problematic, many travelers are becoming concerned about traveling to and from the United States.

Most international travelers expect to have their luggage checked by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and to declare any goods they may be bringing with them, but lately there has been an increased interest in examining travelers' digital devices as well. And, it's not just happening to foreign visitors, U.S. citizens are not exempt from these searches either. Violet Blue reports on the situation in this Engadget article and provides some useful advice.

High on the list of concerns is the possibility that you may need to provide the password or passwords to your devices and social media accounts. And, while many believe that this is tantamount to unreasonable search and seizure, not to mention a violation of privacy, Blue notes that this does not apply to individuals crossing the border into the country. Not only can CBP agents request this information without a warrant, they can also examine and copy the information on your devices, without your permission. So, if you're traveling, think carefully about the devices you'll be bringing and what you've got stored on them. If nothing else, this highlights the importance of not using the same password for all of your accounts.

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Discussion Questions/Activities
  1. This is a great current event topic. Are any of your students planning to travel out of the country this summer? Are any of your students international students here on a work or student visa? It is important to note that some of the actions described in this article have been going on for years, but a recent increase in this activity is generating more interest. How will this news affect them?
  2. Divide the class into two groups to debate the pros and cons of providing Customs and Border Protection agents access to and passwords for digital devices and social media sites.
  3. As an individual project, ask students to investigate the rules and legalities of giving CBP access and passwords for their devices and social media networks. There is a lot of conflicting information and students should decide which actions would be best for them. Students might also consider the problems that providing or denying access might cause, both short-term and long-term. Each student should write a brief paper summarizing their findings and defending their choices.
 

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