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A Clever New Way to Protect Your Data at the Border Could Also Add Risk


Over the past few months, the US and other countries have seen an uptick in border searches—including those of smartphones and laptops. There are several precautions you can take to defend your privacy, the most recent of which is a clever new feature from password-manager 1Password. But while it could secure your digital stuff, it could also introduce new risks.

The new 1Password feature, called Travel Mode, makes it easier for users to remove sensitive data from their password manager before they travel, and then reinstate it when they get to their destination or return home. It lets you create a set of passwords that are "safe for travel," while temporarily removing any sensitive data you may not need on the road. It's a way to reduce the exposure risk for nonessential data, or data that could impact others if revealed.

"It's a way of simply not having certain data on your person," says Jeffrey Goldberg, a product security officer at AgileBits.

Travel Safe

Only monthly subscribers can take advantage of Travel Mode; the tool relies on syncing features that aren't available to longtime 1Password customers who bought a one-time license and sync their password vaults through a third party like Dropbox. Setting up Travel Mode also requires a bit of time, because users need to create a customized travel vault.

The feature offers more flexibility, but doesn't magically solve travel-related privacy concerns. First, it deprives you of the ability to access some of your accounts. That in turn could lead to confrontations with border agents, particularly if they're not familiar with password managers.

"If it looks like you've taken extraordinary steps to avoid things being discovered during the search, then that may have consequences," Goldberg says. "In a sense we're trying to make it easier to fully and honestly cooperate at the border. This is not a mechanism for thumbing your nose at border agents."

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