Over the course of the past few years, international travel has taken on an extra level of invasiveness as U.S. officials demand travelers unlock phones or hand over social media passwords in order to enter the country. Many travelers, even U.S. citizens, feel compelled to comply with these requests — sadly accepting that a forfeit of privacy is a prerequisite to return home.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. A new tool proposes to put a limit on just what border guards will be able to access during a search.
Options for securing your data already exist, though they are tricky at best and potentially illegal at worst. You can wipe your phone before flying, for example, but that’s a huge pain and likely to set off red flags. Lying to CBP agents about the contents of your device? Yeah, don’t do that — you could be charged with a crime.
So what to do? 1Password, a password-managing service, thinks it’s found a solution… as long as you’re down to shell out for the $35.88 annual membership. The company recently introduced a new feature, called Travel Mode, which it believes gives travelers an edge when it comes to keeping their online accounts private at the border.
“[Travel Mode] protects your 1Password data from unwarranted searches when you travel,” Rick Fillion, a developer at AgileBits (the company behind 1Password), explains in a blog post. “When you turn on Travel Mode, every vault will be removed from your devices except for the ones marked ‘safe for travel.'”
Your “vaults” are essentially encrypted folders within your password manager account that hold login credentials to different online accounts of your choosing. Travel Mode allows you to remove entire groups of login credentials from your device, while still maintaining access to the ones you absolutely require.
Email? Keep it. Facebook? Not on this trip. With Travel Mode, these kinds of decisions are made easy.
But wait, there’s more.
“Your vaults aren’t just hidden; they’re completely removed from your devices as long as Travel Mode is on,” continues Fillion. “So even if you’re asked to unlock 1Password by someone at the border, there’s no way for them to tell that Travel Mode is even enabled.”
Importantly, this is no silver bullet. CBP agents can still explicitly demand that you reveal all your online accounts to them, and failure to comply might result in you missing a connection flight or worse. However, if agents simply demand that you unlock your phone and turn it over, Travel Mode provides a much appreciated layer of protection.
It’s a small step toward keeping your data secure, but an important one.