“The next time you plan to cross a border to visit a different country, leave your phone at home.”
That is rather surprising advice in a blogpost that is being widely shared currently. Its author, Quincy Larson, is a software engineer, who has earlier written about the necessity of securing your personal data. He now alerts that the phone data could be at risk when you cross a border.
His concerns were raised by the story of Sidd Bikkannavar, an American-born Nasa engineer, who flew home from a trip to Chile last month. On reaching Houston, he was detained by the border police and, by his own account, put under large pressure to hand over the password of his smartphone, despite the fact that the phone had been issued to him by NASA.
Finally, Bikkannavar did hand over both the phone and the password. His phone was taken away for half an hour and was then returned to him.
We know that the new homeland security secretary, John Kelly, has disclosed about the need of requiring visa applicants to hand over passwords to their social media accounts.
Larson says that a policy where travelers are asked to download the data of their phones will soon become an ordinary process, not just in the United States but across the globe. Hence, his suggestion to leave your mobile phone and laptop at home and to rent devices when you reach your destination holds good.
Was there a risk that I would be forced by border officials to unlock my phone or release my social media passwords?
The Foreign Office told me that their travel advice did not cover this concern because they had not received any updates about it. But they did warn that if In case I get trapped in immigration at JFK airport with a border agent asking my passcode, I could call the British embassy and arrange a lawyer.