If you take your cameras, laptop, flash cards and lenses through U.S. Customs, prepare yourself for a potential nightmare.
Recently, the U.S. Customs service has started “searching” some electonics items in an attempt to find criminals. Unfortunately, there appears to be no limit to how they go about this duty and laptops in particular, can be held for what seems to be an indeterminate period of time.
Read the following article from the Washington Post. While it doesn’t specifically mention cameras, it does talk about many other electronic devices that photographers are likely to carry on foreign trips.
I’ve also heard from two different photojournalists who went to Iraq that they had Compact Flash cards seized. In one case, the U.S. Customs agent merely forced the photographer to show the images contained on the card before passing through the border. In the other, the agent took the card and the photographer did not receive it back as promised.
I am not making a judgment about the U.S. Customs agents’ actions. I am warning you to take care.
On any future overseas trip, I plan to:
a. Travel with an inexpensive laptop that has no data on it whatsoever other than the programs I need to access the Internet. I will store all my critical data on servers that I can access online.
b. Upload the contents of any CF cards to online servers before making any border crossing.
c. Refrain from traveling with digital wallets or portable media storage devices since these seem to be one of the most targeted items.
These are just some of the precautions I can suggest to avoid losing your images after that trip of a lifetime. If you can think of others, please add them here.
Also, let’s keep the comments centered on the photographic side of the equation here. I don’t want the thread to get hijacked by folks who want to vent at the government. That may be entirely appropriate, just not here. Thanks.