One Less Reason to go to the United Kingdom

Size Comparison Asus EEE PC vs Acer Aspire One vs Acer 15" laptop
Laptops might be seized at the UK border

Orgzine has an article complaining that in the UK when crossing the border you don’t get the same protections as you do within the borders. This does not surprise me since we have the same issue over here and we tend to have more robust civil liberties than our cousins across the pond. (Hence why libel suits are so often filed in England – their definition of libel is slanted in favor of the company or star while ours is the other way around) Basically, if you’re going to England you better take a burner phone and burner laptop because:

How would you feel if the police stopped you on a whim, took your phone, your laptop, your digital camera, your MP3 player, your USB sticks and your memory cards then copied everything on them?

How would you feel if they told you they were going to keep all your photographs, your documents, your address book, your financial data, your browsing history, your emails, your chat logs, your electronic diary, your music and recordings and anything else they liked for at least six years – indeed maybe they’d keep them until you reached the age of a hundred in case they might prove useful one day?

How would you feel if they then demanded all of your passwords and threatened you with years in jail if you refused to hand them over?

There are two things I have problems with. First of all, keeping the information indefinitely. While there are certain to be some exceptions, it’s highly unlikely that what I have on my laptop now would have any relevance to a crime I might commit two decades in the future. Sure, there might be stuff in there that could be used to discredit me – “OOH, he read comics!” But most people, even terrorists aren’t playing that long of a game. So there isn’t really any legitimate reason to keep it and there are many reasons for them not to do so.

The retention of data for as long as the state feels it might be useful, should alarm everyone. Everyone should have something to hide. Just because we live in a nominally democratic society right now doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Russia, ironically the first country to decriminalise homosexuality, is fast criminalising it again. Right now you would have good reason to feel worried if the Russian state was holding copies of your mobile telephone and computer data if that included evidence of your sexuality.

Exactly! What’s innocent now might not be innocent later. What might seem innocent now (having Harry Potter novels, for example) might get you killed in the future (if those people who think Harry Potter promotes witchcraft take power).

The second problem I have is with the requirement to give them my password. I’m better than the average person about not reusing passwords because I follow the tech world so closely and know about the dangers of password reuse. Even so, I am sure I have at least one password that repeats on more than one site. Although I have a problem with people being swept up without cause, I would have a lot less problem with unlocking my computer for them than giving them my password. Because if they’re going to violate the principle of innocence if not being investigated for a crime, I’d rather limit the damage by not giving them a password that could end up putting my finances at risk.

I guess it would also be a good idea to clear the browser history and cache before heading to the United Kingdom to ensure that what I thought was some innocent browsing doesn’t end up getting me in trouble.

Author: Eric Mesa

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