Vive Le Canada

Illegal Downloads -- New Concerns for Cross-Border Travelers
Date: Wednesday, November 08 2006

The Traveler Back Issue Article

May 2006

This year I have traveled quite a few times to the United States from my home in Canada, which I don't mind doing because itís normally a pretty easy skip across the border. However, although itís usually quite easy to go back and forth, occasionally you'll hit some snags, sometimes because a flight gets canceled, or other times you'll get snowed-in someplace. That happened to me once, and I ended up waiting at the airport for almost eight hours, only to stay overnight at a nearby hotel. Or, there are little snags at customs, which are to be expected with cross-border travelling. However, my last time through customs was like no other.

Having customs go through your luggage is no real surprise; anyone who travels quite a bit sooner or later gets called into the back room by officials for a more thorough examination of the goods brought back from travelling. This happens to me quite a bit now that I regularly travel to South America, which is where my wife is originally from. (A customs official once told me that getting searched more often now that I travel back and forth to South America is a "coincidence," but I didnít believe him.) Watching someone go through your baggage is really no big deal; I'm just happy that the body searches we all hear about are not as common as some people think -- although they do happen from time to time.

However, while Iím used to having my bags checked, my last cross-border trip was different. Once again I was called into the back room, and when I got there a lone customs official was already conducting a search of another passenger's bags. I had to "wait behind the red line" and make sure "not to use my cell phone" in "the secured area." Violate these rules and you're in deep you-know-what.

From a distance, then, I watched as the other guy's bags got a good going-over -- the same thing that would be presumably happening to my bags in due time. The customs official was really going to town. He was checking everything -- yanking out clothes, checking through pockets, looking at various packages, and so on. I figured that they must really have something on this guy.

Then I heard the official ask the gentleman for his laptop, which I thought was just to ensure that it wasnít bought abroad and brought back without paying taxes (which is why you should always carry some sort of proof of purchase with you, or get a special customs card made that stipulates the product was purchased in your home country -- they question these sorts of things). But they werenít just considering where heíd bought it; they were about to conduct a search of the contents of his computer. You know, the files stored on it! Iíd never seen this done before, and my heart skipped a beat. I had a laptop too!

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[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 9, 2006]

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