If you haven't crossed the border lately or read some articles by people who have, you need to realize that a few things have changed since the care-free 80's and 90's. Despite the lack of proof that these systems work at all, border officials now have more rights in many cases than the police do. They can search your possessions without a warrant or suspicion and detain you without a lawyer. Many people have written about the phenomenon and I'm not going to expound on it at all here, except to point out that CNet has written a short but excellent article about keeping your laptop's data secure while crossing the border and dealing with underpaid overstressed border officials. From their article:
The information security implications are worrisome. Sensitive business documents can be stored in computers; lawyers may have notes protected by the attorney-client privilege; and journalists may save notes about confidential sources. Regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley may apply. A 2006 survey of business travelers showed that almost 90 percent of them didn't know that customs officials can peruse the contents of laptops and confiscate them without giving a reason.They recommend various levels of encryption depending on your needs, as well as giving links to actual software for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Do remember if you decide to encrypt your laptop that border officials may request that you boot the laptop to prove its not a bomb. Make sure you have a way of legitimately booting it without divulging the very passwords and data you're trying to protect. Personally speaking, I refuse to enter the United States any time soon because I actually value my personal rights here in Canada and hope my American friends to the south come back to their senses soon.