Australian Gov't Likes Intrusive Border Device Searches Just As Much As The US Does

from the privacy-continues-to-be-the-biggest-victim-of-terrorist-attacks dept

Australians will be thrilled to discover they won't have to visit the United States to have their electronic devices brutalized and mercilessly probed in the name of security. Why spend all that money flying halfway around the world when you can experience the same intrusive discomfort at home?

A British-Australian citizen travelling through Sydney airport has had his devices seized, and believes his laptop password cracked and his digital files inspected by Border Force officers, in what privacy groups say is a worrying development.

Nathan Hague, a 46-year-old software developer, was detained apparently at random for 90 minutes while the officers took his phone and password-protected laptop into a back room.

Hague had no reason to be treated with extra suspicion, but extra suspicion was there all the same, simply because the random selection process told border officers to be as intrusive as possible. He asked officers a reasonable question -- if you search my other belongings in public because I'm a randomly selected "threat," why can't you search my devices out in the open. There was, of course, no response.

Other questions about the Border Force's handling of the contents of Hague's devices also went unanswered. Officers refused to say whether data would be copied and/or retained, as well as refusing to explain what they were looking for.

Why did the Border Force perform this intrusive search? Because it can.

“Officers may question travellers and examine goods if they suspect the person may be of interest for immigration, customs, biosecurity, health, law-enforcement or national security reasons,” said a spokesperson for the ABF.

So, for any reason or no reason, so long as the word "security" is chanted during the proceedings. Who could limit the Border Force's intrusive, suspicionless searches? Only the people who've already decided they're not going to.

Under the Customs Act, officers have the right to examine travellers’ personal items, including accessing electronic devices and making copies of their files. The Customs Act imposes no legal threshold or requirement that officers need to meet in order to use this power

The Border Force offered quasi-reasons in defense of its handling of Hague and his devices. The law itself doesn't even compel a quasi-rationalization.

And the law might get worse. Proposed changes would give citizens with password-protected devices two choices: hand over the password or spend 5-10 years in prison. At this point, Hague was free to refuse the request, but that likely would have meant not seeing those devices again for weeks or months. The Border Force has extended an invitation to the software developer to file a complaint with its redress black hole, just in case Hague wants to spend more time being jerked around by the Australian government.

This is status quo in the so-called free world: suspicionless, highly-intrusive searches requiring minimal, if any, justification… all done in the name of national security. While citizens may realize a security/freedom tradeoff is necessary in some extreme cases, their governments have already determined the exchange rate and made it clear the freedom side will continue to lose value indefinitely.


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  • identicon
    Christenson, 30 Aug 2018 @ 10:56am

    Of COURSE they love suspicionless searches!

    Wouldn't any petty bureaucrat (or other tin god on stilts) on a power trip want to abuse people, legally and with no repercussions???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 11:16am

    not bad for a country that started it's white occupation with nothing but criminals from a country that was then, i believe, known as Great Britain! Australia is going down the same path as the USA, UK, New Zealand, Canada and others where anything can be deemed legal for security forces when using 'National Security' as the excuse and all freedom and privacy is being removed/dismissed from the people under the excuses of stopping terrorism and saving the children!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      carlb, 30 Aug 2018 @ 10:44pm

      Re: criminals

      Yes, the 13 colonies were an Imperial dumping ground for criminals who had been "sentenced to transportation" for crimes committed in the United Kingdom, but it would be sad to see Australia dragged down to the same level.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anon, 31 Aug 2018 @ 3:09am

        Re: Re: criminals

        uhm, 0.3% of all immigrants to the N. American colonies from 1650 to 1870 (the period of UK transport of criminals overseas) were criminals, 45% of those to Australia were criminals.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 11:26am

    I, a US citizen, just returned from Sydney and was "randomly" selected for an extra scan. I was carrying a laptop, tablet and cell phone. The scan consisted of an additional X-ray conveyor off to the left operated the same as the regular scan I went through immediately afterward. There was no device search or seizure involved.

    My first thought is there was something else about Mr. Hague that drew their suspicion. That or the additional security measures were also random and he drew the shortest straw possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 11:40am

    Border 'security', the dream job for voyeurs everywhere

    Officers refused to say whether data would be copied and/or retained, as well as refusing to explain what they were looking for.

    I think I can answer those for him, based upon their refusal to do so.

    1. Yes.
    2. Yes.
    3. Whatever looks interesting and/or incriminating.

    If the answer was 'no' then they would have said it, that they refused to answer means the default assumption is 'yes' to the first two, and 'whatever catches our eyes' for the third.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 12:25pm

    "... imposes no legal threshold or requirement that officers need to meet in order to use this power"

    "Ohh he has a cute wife/daughter etc. Lets see if he has any pictures of her on his devices. " every boarder control officer in AUS AU Ca etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 12:46pm

    Headline translation: Australian government hates freedom as much as the United States does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 12:47pm

    At least in Australia, they don't have anything like Sarbanes Oxley, so he could have wiped his devices, and re-installed the operating system to keep the Australian Border Force from finding anything he did not want found, and would have been breaking current Australian laws.

    It is only illegal right now, in Britain and the USA to wipe data to prevent Customs from being able to get anything.

    Of course, laws like Sarbanes Oxley in the USA or Perverting the Course Of Justics in Britain is spurring manufacturers of wiping software to improve their products.

    That is what Evidence Eliminator does not exist anymore. Better products that make it harder for prosecutors to prove that you wiped data to hide data from investigators are being written all the disk.

    Programs that completely wipe the disk make it all but impossible for prosecutors to prove you wiped the disk, once you have re-installed the operating system and all your programs.

    That is why that part of Sarbanes Oxley needs to be repealed, as makers of wiping software will just make their products better and harder to detect.

    The software developers, themselves, cannot be prosecuted in the United States or Britain for making usage of their products hard to detect, since all the latest programs now are manufactured outside the USA or Britain, so their products are not subject to the laws of the United States or Britain.

    If prosecutors cannot prove the drive was ever wiped, they have no case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 8:07pm

      Re:

      I thought SOX dealt with accounting rules and reporting requirements for financial transactions ... how is it used in the security theater and to what end?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 1:19pm

    A dual password would be ideal. Keep your private stuff visible only to the real p/w.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 1:43pm

      Re:

      For cell phones, one way to fool Customs, would be to encrypt the phone, then reset it and reinstall your apps. Once the phone has been reset, the decryption key needed to decrypt the data is gone.

      Encrypting data to hide it from Customs does not violate Sarbanes Oxley, in the USA, though it might be considered Perverting The Course Of Justice in Britain.

      If they cannot decrypt your data, the worst that can happen to you is that you are denied entry. They cannot prosecute you for hiding data with encryption, so the worst that can happen is that you are denied entry.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 1:54pm

    That proposed law for making it a crime to refuse to hand over passwords is state level law, and not a federal law in Australia.

    So if you go to Australia, just make sure you don't land in Adelaide, when you first enter Australia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon, 31 Aug 2018 @ 3:17am

      Re:

      You privacy and warrant protection in Australia has long been lower in Australia than the US. Australia has lower equivalent to fourth and fifth amendment protections (just as it has less first and second amendment liberties). Search warrant requirements are much lower there, just as evidence from warrants unspecified on the warrant is much more likely to be allowed in court.. I lived there for five years, they also hand out $300 fines for adults not wearing a helmet or not having a bell on their bike. It is the ultimate nanny state

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 3:32pm

    Which is why you should backup your device in the cloud that you can trust. Maybe your own NAS if need be. Then wipe your device. At least wipe Say you have your Laptop, Delete all your personal files after they're backed up. Not a simple delete either. Use real software that will actually delete the files where they can't just be easily restored. All that's really left is bascially Windows and your Log-In account. Search away all you want.

    You can look at it as a Chromebook where everything is already in the cloud. Have your normal Chromebook account. And then a Worthless account. When you're going to go to a boarder, wipe the Chromebook to new and then use your bogus account. You can have some worthless files on that account you don't care about just so it looks like you use it.

    With Windows, It's harder as the files are normally all local. But it can be done. Don't do a simple delete as it can be easily restored. Your Smartphone, you can do the same. Setup 2 accounts. Your normal one and your B.S. One. All your normal stuff on an iPhone is backed up to iCloud right? Reset your phone, wiping it to new, and log in using your B.S. account. An account that has a few Important Phone numbers in it. Maybe a couple of apps. That's is. So long as it looks like your phone. You can even have it password protected. Here you go, I unlocked it, look away all you want!!!

    Once through the checkpoint, go to the nearest McDonalds or where ever there's free Wifi, Reset your phone to new again, and restore with your real account. If you have a ton of stuff on your phone, get the important things like your contacts and stuff which are small files, and worry about all your apps later. Or you can go to the app store and do a search and load a few you really need up faster, giving them higher priority.

    This is really what it's come down to. I have every right to my privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Gomer's Pyle, 30 Aug 2018 @ 8:10pm

      Re:

      "the cloud that you can trust."

      Haha - good one.

      you aren't serious are you?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 5:02am

      Re:

      If you are going to wipe your device, you will need to totally wipe and resintall, and using programs were Customs will never detect that wiping software is used. This is to avoid problems with Sarbanes Oxley in the USA or Perverting The Course Of Justice in Britain. So when doing this, get the latest software where usage will not be detected by either CBP in the USA or HM Customs in Britain.

      If you use a program that totally wipes the hard disk, and then reinstall the OS and all your programs, there is no possible way they could ever find out you wiped your device.

      Having your own home VPN, or a VPN service is also good when using a public WiFi when travelling out out state.

      California's computer crime law and the CFAA both require that you have used an illegally obtained password, for it to be illegal access, but that laws of some states may be different.

      When I go to my favourite campground in Nevadafor stargazing, the nearest place I can go to get on the Internet is 65 miles away in Eureka, Nevada at the Sundowner Motel. I have a USB adapter with a 10 watt linear amplifier built in where I can park at the Chevron station in town to get onto the WiFi

      While sitting at the gas station and using that motel's wifi, from about a mile away, without being a guest, does not violate the CFAA, I am not sure of Nevada law, so I use a VPN outside the United States, so they cannot determine where I went, based on their router logs. Since the VPNs I use are not in the United States, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of ANY court in the United States.

      I also pay with cash, when I put gas in my car before going back to the campground, so there is no money trail to follow me, in case Nevada investigators do ever come around there. The transaction records will only show that someone bought gas with cash, and no way to find out who made that purchase.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 8:08am

        Re: Re:

        Again .. what does SOX have to do with border security?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 9:17am

        Re: Re:

        "At a recent computer security conference in Las Vegas, I was struck by the fact that every computer security vendor was advertising its product, software, service or consulting services as, "100% Sarbanes Oxley Compliant." It's sort of like the saying of being fat free and having reduced carbs. It got me wondering, does the Sarbanes Oxley law really have anything at all to do with computer security? The quick answer is, not as much as you might suspect, but more than the law did before."


        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/05/03/sarbanes_oxley_for_it_security/

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 8:41pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          However, offshore manufacturers of disk wiping software are are not subject to Sarbanes Oxley, or any US laws. While the user could be prosecuted, the manufacturer of wiping programs, are not subject to Sarbanes Oxley, or any US laws.

          The law does not prohibit the possession of wiping programs, incuding those that could be used to violate Sarbanes Oxley.

          And making the programs to where authorities cannot detect their usage, is not illegal.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2018 @ 3:02pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            It is confusing that SOX is being used this way as I thought it was in reaction to the crap Enron pulled off which had little to do with disk wiping software. Looks like someone is using a law for a purpose for which it was not intended.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2018 @ 3:04pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Also - wiping a disk is simple to do, are they going to get rid of everyone who knows how?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 8:31pm

    I blame priviledge

    Government officials get to travel with diplomatic bags and official business related papers which means they don't get border hassled like commoners. If they had to experience equal treatment under the law they'd flip out and demand that unjust practices be put to an end immediately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 8:08am

      Re: I blame priviledge

      Gotta smuggle that stuff somehow.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 8:31am

      Re: I blame priviledge

      If they had to experience equal treatment under the law they'd flip out and demand that unjust practices be put to an end immediately.

      Or insist on an exception that would apply only to those wit the right connections/rank/wealth, like what they currently enjoy.

      But yes, a whole lot of problems could be solved if politicians actually had to deal with what the rest of the public does, rather than getting the silk glove treatment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2018 @ 11:14am

        Re: Re: I blame priviledge

        Totally out of touch with reality, so much that they are shocked to find out how much the rest of us dislike them. Then they try to silence their critics, as if that will make it all go away and things will be peachy keen once again.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2018 @ 8:52am

    wait a minute m8

    Australia...border?
    Oh! Like Cuba and Florida. I gets it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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