3 min

Four ways to protect your computer when you travel

Does this guy look like a porn mule?

It’s a lesson we first learned a dozen years ago when John Robin Sharpe was arrested returning to Canada from abroad: Customs officers aren’t just looking for spiced rum when they search our bags, they’re also looking for porn.

While kiddie porn and BDSM porn fall squarely onto the forbidden side of the law, lots of vanilla gay porn can also get you in trouble. And as the Supreme Court of Canada has pointed out in the Little Sister’s bookstore case, porn that would be perfectly legal to make, sell and possess in Canada is often stopped at the border.

And that means say goodbye to your laptop, digital camera or cellphone for at least 30 days.

Academic papers, fictions, letters and correspondence, bootlicking pictures, family photos — it can all get you in trouble.

And with porn, an overly broad law (which bans not just pics of underagers but also adults who “appear under the age of 18”) means an overzealous employee of the Canada Border Services Agency — and there are many of them — could dredge up your cheerleader or football player gangbang and then say goodbye to your laptop.

Even if you have nothing objectionable, the CBSA can go through every porn image, sometimes thousands, looking for that one download that they think crosses the line.

Don’t think that it can happen to someone as vanilla as you?

Janine Fuller is the manager of Little Sister’s Bookstore in Vancouver. Fighting a 20-year battle against porn import seizures, employees at the city’s most famous gay and lesbian bookstore have become lightning rods for anecdotal evidence about the CBSA, formerly Canada Customs.

“I’ve had many people coming in who have had their laptops seized,” she says.

Strip searches, extended interrogations and being denied entry into Canada: all can be the result of a seemingly harmless diary entry or adult-adult vid, says Fuller. But more commonly, the computer is seized for at least 30 days.

“Which is a pretty frightening thing,” she adds. “A lot of people are intimidated by the process and it’s expensive to retain a lawyer to fight it. People end up abandoning their laptops instead.”


We all make mistakes. Especially with porn you download from filesharing programs, it’s hard to know what you’re getting until it’s sitting on your desktop. And once there, it leaves a digital mark — even if you delete it.

When you delete a file, it’s like ripping up the card catalogue index — not destroying the book. So if a CBSA agent finds something questionable, he can find your deleted files with a little technical help. This summer, Capital Xtra reported that CBSA officers were being trained by the Ontario Provincial Police to do forensic computer work.

That’s why a free downloadable program like Eraser can be helpful. Eraser scrambles data that’s been deleted and can help clean out the cache of programs like Explorer and Windows Media Player, which makes travelling with the computer safer. Not an airtight solution, but helpful.

Most media player programs like Windows Media Player — for video — are hard to clean but easy to download. In some cases, it might make more sense to delete the program than fiddle with it. You can re-install it later.

Just putting a password on the laptop is not going to do you much good since border guards can require that you unlock it. If you don’t cooperate, they can confiscate the hardware or deny you entry into Canada.

If you’re going to lock up your porn, you’re going to need an encryption program. There are free user-friendly encryption programs like TrueCrypt available online. You can hide gigs of data in photos, other files or programs. When you’re travelling, you can un-install TrueCrypt, and then install again when you get to your destination.

It might seem like a hassle to encrypt your perfectly legal porn collection, but the encryption process could save you time at the border. But remember, it’s not foolproof.

You can reduce the risks by giving off the digital equivilant of a June Cleaver vibe. But you’re unlikely to project a chaste image if you’ve got, for example, Teen Wrestlers 3 screencaps as your computer’s wallpaper.

Consider changing your wallpaper, screensaver, Windows user account name and picture and browser homepages (Firefox, Safari and Explorer) to something sexless. Change it for every user that has an account on your computer.

You might want to delete your browser cache too. That way, typing in the first letters of doesn’t turn up countless Xtube pages.

“I wouldn’t take my laptop,” says Fuller. “But that’s easy for me to say. I don’t have one.”

The only surefire way to keep your computer from getting confiscated is to leave it at home. But if you’re travelling for work, that might be unavoidable.

If so, don’t do home functions on your work laptop. If it’s your primary computer, it might we worth purchasing a second-hand computer for your personal — especially porn-surfing — activities, and leaving that computer at home.

As with anything, you have to weigh the risks and benefits. For instance, it might make more sense to get a cheap digital camera for travelling, and leave the camera with pictures of your girlfriend in the harness at home.

Illustrations by Samnang Touch.