The paranoid Mac traveler’s 10-point data protection checklist

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Here’s an increasingly common scenario: You’re on a business trip, either entering a foreign country or returning home. As you go through customs, a border-control agent asks you to turn on and hand over your iPhone, then starts poking around, looking at your text messages, call logs and apps. The agent then asks you to wake your MacBook, log into your social media accounts and open your email. After the agent reads your tweets and posts for a few minutes, your phone and laptop are taken “for further inspection” — and returned some time later.

Alternatively, the equivalent of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in a foreign country declares that all laptops on international flights must be put in checked baggage — a scenario only narrowly averted a few weeks ago. Your company laptop is properly checked in, but when you arrive at your destination, you discover that not only has your bag been searched, but your laptop appears to have been opened and powered on.

Now, every text message you’ve written, every email you’ve sent or received, every app you use, every document, personal contact and social media message that’s accessible from your computer — the whole electronic record of your life, including corporate data, medical records, and confidential trade and financial information — may be in the hands of government agents.

Having traveled recently from the U.S. to the U.K., I’ve found that these scenarios are no longer something that happens only in a spy novel. They’re occurring more often, and broad warrantless searches at the border that include data are often either permitted or at least occur in a legal gray area.