Shhh… What Can You Do If Airport Checkpoints Demand for Your Smartphone Password?

Ever wonder if this could happen to you? A Canadian man was charged for not revealing the password of his smartphone when requested by airport’s border officials.

I wrote in an earlier column about how spies cope with airport security checkpoints but what can you do if you anticipate this (see article below) could happen to you at the airport?

I reckon at the very least, reset the password to your phone before you reached the checkpoint. If your phone has an external SD card, transfer all your files to the card before you remove and replace it with a spare and ideally empty SD card – hide the files-loaded SD card deep inside your hand-carry bag. And bingo if you have a spare or expired SIM card…

You have then done the best you could to preserve your privacy. Good luck.

Quebec resident Alain Philippon to fight charge for not giving up phone password at airport

Whether border officials can force you to provide password hasn’t been tested in Canadian courts

By Jack Julian, CBC News Posted: Mar 04, 2015 9:32 PM AT Last Updated: Mar 05, 2015 2:05 PM AT

A Quebec man charged with obstructing border officials by refusing to give up his smartphone password says he will fight the charge.

The case has raised a new legal question in Canada, a law professor says.

Alain Philippon, 38, of Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Que., refused to divulge his cellphone password to Canada Border Services Agency during a customs search Monday night at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Philippon had arrived in Halifax on a flight from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. He’s been charged under section 153.1 (b) of the Customs Act for hindering or preventing border officers from performing their role under the act.

According to the CBSA, the minimum fine for the offence is $1,000, with a maximum fine of $25,000 and the possibility of a year in jail.

Philippon did not want to be interviewed but said he intends to fight the charge since he considers the information on his phone to be “personal.”

The CBSA wouldn’t say why Philippon was selected for a smartphone search.

In an email, a border services spokesperson wrote, “Officers are trained in examination, investigative and questioning techniques. To divulge our approach may render our techniques ineffective. Officers are trained to look for indicators of deception and use a risk management approach in determining which goods may warrant a closer look.”​

Rob Currie, director of the Law and Technology Institute at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, said that under Canadian law, travellers crossing the Canadian border have a reduced expectation of privacy.

He said border officials have wide-ranging powers to search travellers and their belongings.

“Under the Customs Act, customs officers are allowed to inspect things that you have, that you’re bringing into the country,” he told CBC News. “The term used in the act is ‘goods,’ but that certainly extends to your cellphone, to your tablet, to your computer, pretty much anything you have.”

Philippon has been released on bail, and will return to court in Dartmouth on May 12 for election and plea.


Not tested yet in court

Currie said the issue of whether a traveller must reveal a password to an electronic device at the border hasn’t been tested by a court.

“This is a question that has not been litigated in Canada, whether they can actually demand you to hand over your password to allow them to unlock the device,” he said. “[It’s] one thing for them to inspect it, another thing for them to compel you to help them.”

Currie said the obstruction case hinges on that distinction.

“[It’s] a very interesting one to watch.”

Shhh… The WikiLeaks' CIA Travel Guide

I like to share with you the latest WikiLeaks release, “CIA Travel Advice to Operatives”. Its press release is pasted below (click here for the full report).

And I find it appropriate to highlight an earlier column, Spies and the Airport Screening Machine.

Enjoy!

CIA Travel Advice to Operatives – Press Release

Today, 21 December 2014, WikiLeaks releases two classified documents by a previously undisclosed CIA office detailing how to maintain cover while travelling through airports using false ID – including during operations to infiltrate the European Union and the Schengen passport control system. This is the second release within WikiLeaks’ CIA Series, which will continue in the new year.

The two classified documents aim to assist CIA undercover officials to circumvent these systems around the world. They detail border-crossing and visa regulations, the scope and content of electronic systems, border guard protocols and procedures for secondary screenings. The documents show that the CIA has developed an extreme concern over how biometric databases will put CIA clandestine operations at risk – databases other parts of the US government made prevalent post-9/11.

How to Survive Secondary Screening without Blowing your CIA Cover

The CIA manual “Surviving Secondary”, dated 21 September 2011, details what happens in an airport secondary screening in different airports around the world and how to pass as a CIA undercover operative while preserving one’s cover. Among the reasons for why secondary screening would occur are: if the traveller is on a watchlist (noting that watchlists can often contain details of intelligence officials); or is found with contraband; or “because the inspector suspects that something about the traveler is not right”.

The highlighted box titled “The Importance of Maintaining Cover––No Matter What” at the end of the document provides an example of an occasion when a CIA officer was selected for secondary screening at an EU airport. During the screening his baggage was swiped and traces of explosives found. The officer “gave the cover story” to explain the explosives; that he had been in counterterrorism training in Washington, DC. Although he was eventually allowed to continue, this example begs the question: if the training that supposedly explained the explosives was only a cover story, what was a CIA officer really doing passing through an EU airport with traces of explosives on him, and why was he allowed to continue?

The CIA identifies secondary screening as a threat in maintaining cover due to the breadth and depth of the searches, including detailed questioning, searches of personal belongings and electronic databases and collection of biometrics “all of which focus significant scrutiny on an operational traveler”.

The manual provides advice on how best to prepare for and pass such a process: having a “consistent, well-rehearsed, and plausible cover”. It also explains the benefits of preparing an online persona (for example, Linked-In and Twitter) that aligns with the cover identity, and the importance of carrying no electronic devices with accounts that are not for the cover identity, as well as being mentally prepared.

CIA Overview of EU Schengen Border Control

The second document in this release, “Schengen Overview”, is dated January 2012 and details guidelines for border officials in the EU’s Schengen zone and the threats their procedures might pose in exposing the “alias identities of tradecraft-conscious operational travelers”, the CIA terminology for US spies travelling with false ID during a clandestine operation. It outlines how various electronic systems within Schengen work and the risks they pose to clandestine US operatives, including the Schengen Information System (SIS), the European fingerprint database EURODAC (European Dactyloscopie) and FRONTEX (Frontières extérieures) – the EU agency responsible for easing travel between member states while maintaining security.

While Schengen currently does not use a biometric system for people travelling with US documents, if it did this “would increase the identity threat level” and, the report warns, this is likely to come into place in 2015 with the EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES). Currently, the Visa Information System (VIS), operated by a number of Schengen states in certain foreign consular posts, provides the most concern to the CIA as it includes an electronic fingerprint database that aims to expose travellers who are attempting to use multiple and false identities. As use of the VIS system grows it will increase the “identity threat for non-US-documented travelers”, which would narrow the possible false national identities the CIA could issue for undercover operatives.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange said: “The CIA has carried out kidnappings from European Union states, including Italy and Sweden, during the Bush administration. These manuals show that under the Obama administration the CIA is still intent on infiltrating European Union borders and conducting clandestine operations in EU member states.”

Both documents are classified and marked NOFORN (preventing allied intelligence liaison officers from reading it). The document detailing advice on maintaining cover through secondary screening also carries the classification ORCON (originator controlled) and specifically allows distribution to Executive Branch Departments/Agencies of the US government with the appropriate clearance, facilitating clandestine operations by the other 16 known US government spy agencies. Both documents were produced by a previously unknown office of the CIA: CHECKPOINT, situated in the Identity Intelligence Center (i2c) within the Directorate of Science and Technology. CHECKPOINT specifically focuses on “providing tailored identity and travel intelligence” including by creating documents such as those published today designed specifically to advise CIA personnel on protecting their identities while travelling undercover.

Spies and the Airport Screening Machine

The US works out a free ride for its spooks

I have always fancied having a smorgasbord of passports, each bearing a different name, country of citizenship and photo — just like the spies as we know them, or at least as we understand them from spy fiction and movies like James Bond and CIA agent Jason Bourne in the Bourne Trilogy movies.

However, airport security checks and immigration clearance must be a nightmare for real spies, undercover agents and intelligence officials these days as governments, increasingly wary of the growing sophistication of terrorists, have invented new technologies to try to detect them. Hence the increased tight security measures at airports over the world have created lots of inconvenience for the intelligence community. And the pseudo passports probably don’t even work, given the facial recognition checks on top of the fingerprint hassles that have become commonplace at immigration checkpoints across the globe.

The spymasters know and they care, and they set out to do something about it.

So in late July, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the agency within the US Department of Homeland Security that exercises authority over the security of the traveling public in America – reportedly put procedures in place to allow the employees of three US intelligence agencies to pass un-scrutinized through airport security checks with convenience… (Read the entire column here and there).

Shhh… Privileged Spies and Frequent Travelers

Airport security checks and immigration clearance must be a nightmare for spies, undercover agents and intelligence officials these days. The increased tight security measures at airports over the world have created lots of inconvenience for the intelligence community. And the pseudo passports probably don’t work, given the facial recognition checks on top of those fingerprint hassles that have become commonplace at immigration checkpoints across the globe…..

I will soon be posting my next column on this topic. Please visit again, thanks.