Monday, January 4, 2010
Canadian border crossing problems—read this before you cross with a laptop!
I’ve entered Canada many times, always with two laptops, and never a problem until December 26th. At the Canadian border crossing (Blaine, Washington), a young Asian woman scowled at me in response to every answer I gave to her questions, especially when I told her I have never been arrested. (Apparently she thought there are only two kinds of travelers, those who admit they’ve been arrested, and those who lie about it.) I was told to park my pickup and enter the building—the dreaded “secondary inspection.” What followed was one the most miserable experiences I’ve had in recent memory.
“Give me your keys,” said an older, heavy-set officer, “and then sit over there.” From where I sat, my pickup was not visible. Eventually I was called back to the counter and the questions began.
“Why do you carry TWO laptops? Why are your keys connected to a Kubotan? How many flash drives do you have with you? Why doesn’t your wife travel with you? Are you going to be around any young children? What’s the name of the man you plan to meet in Ucluelet? Have you ever met him? No? Then how did you know about him? Why do you carry a Bible and some religious magazines, when you also carry two bottles of wine? (I quoted some pro-wine Scriptures at this point, which put an end to that line of questioning.)
In days gone by, I survived two interrogations by Generalissimo Franco’s Secret Police but this session with Canadian Customs and Immigration was even more depressing because I knew they were going to go through hundreds of my supposedly private files.
My Asus PC Eee, my backup Vaio, and the two flash drives require passwords. I was forced to reveal them. Then both the man and the young woman disappeared into a back room with my computers and flash drives and left me sitting out there alone with nothing to read and nothing to look at, for 55 minutes. That was the worst part.
True, I keep client lists, tax returns, confidential letters, and most of my pictures on a secure laptop at home that is never connected to the Internet and never leaves home. Nevertheless, there were hundreds if not thousands of files on those laptops and flash drives. Was this going to ruin all the work I’ve put into keeping my private affairs private? My mouth went painfully dry.
Finally, the man reappeared. He handed me the computers and flash drives and allowed me to leave. No “Sorry to bother you,” much less “Welcome to Canada.” But had they copied both hard drives? Would the U.S. Customs and Immigration be notified to check me out when I returned? I carried $4,000 in cash, stuffed inside a glove in the tool compartment below the rear seats. They hadn’t mentioned the money. Had they not found it, or had they taken it? If so, what recourse would I possibly have? I feared I was about to kiss four big ones goodbye.
I had planned to work on some new chapters of a book tentatively titled “How to Hide Your Identity and Protect Your Privacy (International edition)” but what if my hard drive was going to be copied again at the U.S. border? So far, the Canadians at the border crossing had failed to connect me to my Web site or my HTBI book (which I did NOT have with me). Result: I did no writing whatsoever and cut my trip short.
If you plan a Canadian border crossing with a laptop, keep this information in mind:
1. Carry only a “clean” notebook or laptop with you.
2. Answer every question truthfully.
3. Be prepared to give up all your passwords.
Or … leave your computer at home.
Or … cancel your trip.
A surprise was waiting for me when I returned to the ‘Promised Land’ but I’ll leave that information for next week’s blog. Stay tuned for Part II of Canadian Border Crossing problems!