Protect your personal data and computer contents from being indefinitely confiscated upon entry to the US by removing your laptop hard drive and mailing it ahead. Newly released policy documents from the Department of Homeland Security make clear that,

Federal agents may take a traveler’s laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

Many travelers have been shipping their luggage to avoid airline fees, but the fees for international travel are still prohibitively expensive. The cheapest option is to remove your laptop hard drive and mail it back a day or two before you return to the US.

The cost is approximately $75 for UPS and FedEx, but you’re sure to keep your data safe in case your laptop gets confiscated at the airport. Mailing your hard drive carries its own risks so always do the following.

  • Encrypt Your Drive (This works even if you leave the drive in the laptop) – Use the free and simple hard drive encryption of TrueCrypt (here’s how), in case the drive doesn’t make it back in your hands.
  • Package Insurance – Get a tracking number and insurance, but data is priceless.
  • Backup at Home Before You Leave – Or better yet use the free (up to 2 GB) online backup services of Mozy to upload your trip pictures.
  • Don’t Declare Your Contents – The word ‘hard drive’ or anything of the sort may arouse suspicions. If asked, you are sending some trinket that sounds cheap.
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Of course, the best and safest way to keep your data safe from the DHS is to leave your laptop at home. Although the DHS, according to its policies can confiscate and electronic devices, consider the following ways to transport and access data if you go laptopless.

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The odds of having your laptop confiscated is relatively low, but there are reports that business travelers are being particularly targeted. Perhaps a pink laptop with Hannah Montana stickers all over it might look less interesting to airport officials.

[photo by: Warm ‘n Fuzzy]