US Border Laptop Searches

This week in the US many news outlets are reporting a story that relates to how private the data on your computer, hard drive or mobile phone may be when passing national borders.

In a legal ruling a judge has in effect supported immigration officials’ rights to look inside your computer if you want to bring it in to the USA. The court ruling relates to an incident in 2010 when Pascal Abidor, a student crossing from Canada, had his laptop confiscated and searched.

A Laptop Search

A Laptop Search

The student claimed that this was unconstitutional as the 4th amendment states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….” The US has long held however that this amendment cannot be upheld when dealing with people entering the country.

The judge ruled however that “The agents certainly had reasonable suspicion supporting further inspection of Abidor’s electronic devices”. What is not widely reported is the circumstances that lead to this decision. Abidor has both French and US passports, and upon entering he chose to show the passport that did not contain Visas that demonstrated that he had visited Lebanon and Jordan,  giving officials the impression that he was trying to hide something.

Agents spent five hours searching his laptop and USB drives, and then demanded that he write down his passwords and hand over the laptop and storage media. The laptop was returned by post 11 days later.

There are rules about what the authorities must do with data seized in these cases. All data that is deemed innocent must be destroyed within 7 days of seizure unless permission is given to keep it for longer. Many blogs however cast doubt upon whether an unregulated and poorly reported system can actually enforce this however, an online search of the story gives many different perspectives. The Homeland securities News Wire has one of the most informative.

I presume that like me many of you keep a great deal of personal data on your laptops, from tax returns, bank details, love letters and personal photos, and all of these things may be accessed in a case like this. One issue that has come to the fore has been brought by researchers and reporters, who may not be able to reveal sources of information for ethical, security or legal reasons, but may unwittingly do so by leaving evidence of their informers’ identities on their computers.

The line is blurred here, as today smuggling must include information smuggling and authorities may need to search information media, but an individual must be aware that all information carried over an international border is open to search. This must have repercussions in terms of industrial as well as personal privacy.

Why not try Lightbeam?

I have just downloaded and taken a quick look at the new Mozilla add-on called Lightbeam.

I am an UBUNTU user myself, so I don’t know if this will work for other systems, but I would like you to help me decide if it’s an interesting tool either way.

I have always heard that companies share your information. So you go on one site and they share your habits with other organizations. Well Lightbeam shows you who they are sharing your information with.

One thing that I should say is that I do not know what the information they are sharing actually is. If anyone does know I would love to hear. So that is job number one for you down in the comments below.

The actual view that you are presented with when you open this program is very nice. A series of connected triangles that drift around the screen, all tied together like one of those kinnect toys that my kids play with. Some of the triangles have website logos on them, others are blank. It’s almost a snowdrop kind of effect.

Mozilla Lightbeam

Mozilla Lightbeam screenshot

The lines are either white or blue, the blue depicting that the sites use cookies. Probably half of them do.

And it makes a nice little educational game. As you visit another site it joins the page with its connections, the entity wobbles and bounces before coming static. Many of these connections are the same, creating a central mass, but some sites do not share with anyone that the others do, and live in their own little detached bubble.

I was surprised to find that ebay UK is not connected to any of the other sites. It has 3 satellite sites but they are all ebay subsections. I would have to draw the conclusion that ebay do not share your information. Job number 2, correct me in the comments below please.

The Weather channel divulge to another weather channel and 3 or 4 others, CNN and the BBC are about the same. TECHNOLOGY BLOGGERS DOES NOT SHARE WITH ANYONE! Read it and weep and respect where it is due Christopher. My employer the Bassetti Foundation are linked to Twitter, and nobody else.

Oh and guess who is in the middle of the blob, tentacles everywhere, yes of course, Facebook. I have not visited the site but they appear through the mist to take centre stage. No wonder profits are up!

Without understanding more this add on is just a toy to me, but I am sure if I was a bit more savvy it could give me a lot of insight into the dark and murky workings of the web. I think it might also present an opportunity, as we can now see who is prostituting our information and who is not, and maybe we should put more trust in those that keep our data in their own hands, and some others a little less.

Definitely worth a look I would say.

Oh on a final note, I went to Microsoft, Ubuntu and Mozilla. Microsoft share with 10 satellites, 5 of which use cookies. Ubuntu and Mozilla do not share with anyone. I visited 15 sites in total during my research, and that meant that I unwittingly connected to 76 third party sites.

Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology

Last month the Northwestern University in the USA published a national survey entitled Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology. The report is available for free download through the Parenting CC Portal , but here I would like to take a quick look at some of the findings and questions raised and see if we can provoke some debate.

Multiple Screen Viewing

Multiple Screen Viewing

The study explores how parents are incorporating new digital technologies (iPads, smartphones) as well as older media platforms (TV, video games, and computers) into their family lives and parenting practices, and it gives an idea of how parents use and view this technology.

We should point out that this is a US based survey.

The 10 key finding could be seen as the following:

1 While new media technologies have become widespread, a majority of parents do not think they have made parenting any easier.

2 Parents use media and technology as a tool for managing daily life, but books, toys, and other activities are used more often.

3 Parents still turn to family and friends for parenting advice far more often than to new media sources like websites, blogs, and social networks.

4 Parents do not report having many family conflicts or concerns about their children’s media use.

5 There is still a big gap between higher- and lower- income families in terms of access to new mobile devices.

6 Parents are less likely to turn to media or technology as an educational tool for their children than to other activities.

7 Parents assess video games more negatively than television, computers, and mobile devices.

8 For each type of technology included in the survey, a majority of parents believe these devices have a negative impact on children’s physical activity, the most substantial negative outcome attributed to technology in this study.

9 Many parents report using media technology with their children, but this “joint media engagement” drops off markedly for children who are six or older.

10 Parents are creating vastly different types of media environments for their children to grow up in, and, not surprisingly, the choices they make are strongly related to their own media use.

Some other interesting points arise, such as that 40% of families are described as media heavy and spend more than 11 hours a day in front of the screen. Half of all families surveyed have 3 TV’s or more in the house. 40% of 6 to 8 year olds have a TV in their bedroom. 70% of parents state that having mobile devices has not made parenting easier with 40% stating that they have a negative social skills effect upon the children.

The conclusions are in some ways surprising though as the authors demonstrate evidence that parents are still more likely to resort to traditional means of entertainment as rewards and punishment, and they are convinced enough about the educational possibilities offered by so called new media to not worry too much about their negative effects.

An interesting read if you have half an hour, but comments and debate about the summary above would also be educational.