Red Flags and Black Marks
With lengthy layovers, endless queues, and heightened security, traveling abroad is stressful at the best of times. When you’re carrying cryptocurrency, however, passing through borders isn’t just stressful – it’s also dangerous. Moving from country to country with a little bitcoin – or even a lot of bitcoin – stored on a hardware wallet, laptop, or cell phone should be a lot safer than carrying a corresponding amount of cash. Crypto is much easier to conceal. But it is the very concealment of cryptocurrency – or even the possibility of such concealment – that compels nosey TSA agents to order travelers to unlock their phones, decrypt their laptops, and bare their digital life for inspection.
Regardless of whether customs have the right to intimately scrutinize passengers in such a manner, the reality is that such practices are rampant, primarily at U.S. airports. To enter the land of the free, first you must surrender your freedoms.
Welcome to Bitcoin Club
The first rule of Bitcoin Club is that when passing through customs – that’s right – you don’t talk about Bitcoin Club. The risks that international travelers arriving in the U.S. face was highlighted this week in a lengthy and understandably emotional tweetstorm by Amal El-Mohtar. The writer, who is no stranger to “enhanced” security checks at airports, largely on account of her name it appears, was subjected to a particularly grueling ordeal. She explained: “Last time… no one took my phone, everyone was embarrassed while they asked horribly violating questions about my parents & background…This time was different”. The Canadian citizen continues:
While anyone can have a bad experience at customs and then vent on social media, such experiences are not isolated. Having a suspicious surname seems grounds alone for enduring extensive interrogation. By the time her journal had been pored over along with her cell, which she’d been forced to unlock, Amal El-Mohtar had missed her flight and had to return to the check-in desk to rebook and repeat the process all over again.
Hide Yo Bitcoin, Hide Yo Encryption
Cases such as this emphasize the need to keep your digital identity locked down when passing through hostile customs. Simply encrypting your hard drive may not be enough, as the very act of doing so can raise further suspicion. If you are going to encrypt sensitive data, consider partitioning your hard drive and concealing the encrypted sector, making it invisible to cursory searches. Hide cryptocurrency apps on your cell phone – yes, banish your Blockfolio. Better still, take a clean laptop and a burner phone and leave the real ones at home.
Admittedly, this isn’t always practical, and the TSA – or whatever border agency happens to be frisking you – is unlikely to detain you for having a thumb drive containing $100 of shitcoins. Nevertheless, given the ease which which an individual’s identity can be laid bare once their laptop or smartphone is unlocked, the simplest solution is to travel clean and with complete peace of mind. Either hide it well or don’t take it with you.
For so long as such innocuous markers as a person’s birth name or interest in bitcoin can be used to profile them under the all-encompassing umbrella of “muh terrorism”, it’s best to play it safe. You can’t easily change your name, but you can certainly conceal your affinity for the world’s favorite digital currency.