Ask Alison: Traveling with Porn


Dear Alison,

In a few months I’m going to be traveling through Europe (from America) on business, so I will be bringing my laptop with me (a Mac, if that makes a difference…).

My question is, should I be worried about the porno files stored on my hard drive or the “adult” bookmarks on my web browser as I go through various airports and customs? What is the policy about bringing porn in this fashion into the EU?

As far as I know (I would hope this goes without saying, but…) nothing in my computer would be constituted in America as illegal or obscene, though it’s possible that a few downloaded files–my beloved and oft-mentioned copies of Laure Sainclair movies, for instance–violate copyright laws (I really don’t know: I don’t show them to anyone else and I don’t profit from them, I just downloaded them from the web…).

How closely will airport (or railroad) security in these countries be checking my laptop? I’m not a terrorist, and I’m not bringing explosives or the like into their country, but I remember once traveling abroad with a porno magazine in my suitcase and I got a fairly thorough grilling about it from security at JFK airport. They let me travel, and they let me bring the magazine (I threw it away in the country I was visiting) but it was embarrassing and I wouldn’t want either to be held up or to hold up other passengers with a two-hour quiz on the content of my VB files!!

Please advise!!

Thanks and best wishes,
Zarafan




Dear Zarafan,

I want to make it very clear at the outset that I am not a lawyer and am not speaking for VideoBox, but simply giving you my own personal opinion. Now that that’s out of the way, on to the advice…

When leaving the states, you may be asked to open your laptop and turn it on to show that it really is a computer and not a bomb. This isn’t extremely common, but it happens. I’ve never heard of anyone’s files being searched at this time.

If you have a transfer at a European airport, you’ll have to go through security again. Porn is legal in the EU (many directors put out “harder” versions of their movies as European releases), so you shouldn’t have an issue. You don’t mention which countries you’re visiting, but as long as you’re not planning any side trips to Australia* you should be fine.

When you arrive at your final destination, you’ll go through customs. On my recent trip to Europe, most of the customs agents I encountered seemed bored and only took a cursory look at my passport before waving me on. I don’t know much about railroad security, but I don’t think it’s more stringent than that.

On your way home, you’re unlikely to be harassed by US customs, but there have been instances of personal electronics taken for no particular reason by overzealous customs agents. US Courts rule pretty consistently that warrants are unnecessary when searching someone at a border crossing. Very unlikely, though.

So, while you probably won’t have any issues, there are a couple of precautions you can take to be totally sure that no one will cause a ruckus about you having a little bit of porn on your computer at the airport (I just want to mention that the fact that you were harassed at JFK is outrageous).

I highly recommend TrueCrypt encryption software. It’s free, works on PC/Mac, and provides a very high level of security to your files. There is no way for anyone (including customs agents) to distinguish between TrueCrypt data and other random data. Additionally, it creates hidden volumes to disguise truly sensitive data. You can read more about its features on the TrueCrypt website.

Onyx is another free program (for Mac) that can keep prying eyes from where you don’t want them by deleting caches and configuring Spotlight access.

Other minor measures would include keeping your laptop turned off while in transit, keep the desktop uncluttered (tons of icons may arouse unnecessary suspicion), and keep your files in places that aren’t obvious or easy for a stranger to access. If your files are unencrypted, be sure not to name any with words that could arouse suspicion like “teen” or “young” (age nuances tend to get lost in translation).

I hope you have a really great (and hassle-free) trip!

Alison

* – Australian authorities have been known to go through travelers’ computers and fine them $30,000 for each porn file featuring young-looking actresses.

If you have any questions for me, drop me a line at blog@videobox.com!

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18 Responses to “Ask Alison: Traveling with Porn”

  1. irhamsrevenge Says:

    I’ve got a friend living in Japan who DL’s American porn onto his laptop when he visits the US & he’s never had his PC scrutinized by customs, though once he was asked to turn it on (as Alison mentioned). So as long as your wallpaper isn’t like a jpeg of a big ol’ Kelly Wells assgape, you should be okay.
    Of course, the only way to truly avoid customs hassles is to transfer your precious files to an external harddrive & leave it at home…but where’s the sense of adventure in doing that?
    Best of luck & happy travels, Zarafan.

  2. ropeadope Says:

    Zarafan – I would tend to be on the cautious side. I haven’t experienced it firsthand, but I’ve read of data gathering efforts occurring at the airports in the form of recording the contents of laptops, digital cameras, and cell phones. Either follow all of Alison’s precautions, or consider swapping out your current hard drive for a spanking fresh one containing nothing more than the operating system. I completely understand you have nothing improper on your hard drive, but no need to invite potential hassles.

  3. andrew Says:

    Alison (or anybody who can answer)–when the movies are released in their European “harder versions” as you stated, how much different is the movie? What kind of things do they change?

  4. alison Says:

    irhamsrevenge – It’s interesting that he lives in Japan and has never had a problem. Uncensored porn is actually illegal there and I have heard stories about people being detained on their way into the country for having porn.

    ropeadope – You’re right. You can never be too careful.

    andrew – They tend to include things like fisting that might draw the attention of a federal prosecutor in the states.

  5. Nameless Asshole Says:

    I’ve had my HD searched at the US border. Don’t risk it. Be safe when you travel.

  6. Mihx Says:

    If you really need to bring it along and don’t feel like taking any risks, can’t you just encrypt a section of your disk?
    I believe software like TrueCrypt can even hide encrypted partitions or folders.

    In any case, once you’re in Europe there’s probably not much reason to worry. If it’s legal in the US, it’s almost certainly legal here in Europe – although I obviously won’t rule out that some of the catholic countries like Italy and Spain might have slightly stricter laws than the rest of us, but I really doubt it.
    I believe the UK and Germany also have some restrictions on hardcore porn, but that’s only related to distribution and age verification on websites.

    I brought hardcore porn into China on my iPod last year, which in hindsight might have been a potentially bad idea :p.

  7. irhamsrevenge Says:

    alison – I tell him he’s crazy to take that risk & suggested that he burn the ’stash’ on DVD-R, then labelling ‘em as music discs. But clearly dude’s not concerned…being tall, handsome, caucasian, & fluent in Japanese, he could probably talk his way out of anything in Tokyo.
    Personally, I wouldn’t chance it…though after a while, pixelated porn could become annoying. In that respect, gotta love the ol’ U S of A!

  8. DoNotErase Says:

    I don’t know where you’re bound but i’ve travelled through europe from spain to england, from france to germany with my laptop full of porn and i have never experienced any issue with the customs.
    And i live in Italy,so, if i were you i would be relaxed and not worried about inspections and security checks. ‘night

  9. Bronty Says:

    Hi,

    I am from the UK, I live in the US, and I travel to and from Europe frequently with porn.

    DON’T WORRY!!!!

    1) Porn laws, even in the UK, are generally less stringent than in the US. 2) By law, regard to personal privacy in the Europe/EU is quite high. Presonal privacy is by some measures in fact higher in Europe than in the US.

    Porn is also a less prominent “social issue” than it is in the US. It’s not quite the “headline” or “election” material that it is in the US.

    I would be more worried coming in to the US, in thoery. But only in theory, as it’s still no big deal coming in to the US with porn.

    When I went to Los Angeles for the first time, I was prepared to smoke cigarettes only in the most out-of-sight places. I imagined getting yelled at, or getting my cigarette confiscated, maybe getting assulted by the police. Funny, that. I wound up standing around with a policeman while we both smoked a cigarette. There were ashtrays everywhere in public so I didn’t have to litter. Lots of locals smoked–cigarettes, cigars. Non-smoking areas were clearly marked and smelled good too!

    Anyway, don’t worry. Your perception is off. Take your porn eith you!!

  10. zarafan Says:

    Dear Alison et al,

    Thank you all for your advice; if anyone else has thoughts on this subject, please share them with me through this blog entry. The consensus seems to be that I have *little* to worry about, but I will almost certainly streamline my collection before I leave town, paying careful attention to edit out the “young” and “teen” titles from my system. And as discussed, I don’t keep anything directly on my desktop to attract attention.

    Keeping my fingers crossed,

    Zarafan

  11. Bronty Says:

    zarafan,

    Quite honestly, I would be more ocncerned about copyright.

    Teen and (legal) ‘young’ type titles really wouldn’t be an issue in the EU. Don’t scrub out your favourite ‘Eighteen’ vids, is all I’m trying to say. The words “young” and “sex” together won’t bother anyone. Sex is in general a lot more open in Europe, and at youger ages.

    If I were concerned at all, it would be towards copyright. That would be the main interest. If they do inspect your computer and you’ve clearly got loads of pirated music and vids/movies–that’s not so good. They won’t care about the actual content.

    All that said, the chances of anything getting confiscated are just so tiny.

  12. Marc Says:

    I’ve gotten damn near ass-raped at customs coming into the USA from Philippines. It was in Washington State. They accused me of being a pedo pornographer spammer because I A) had adult content on my drive and B) worked in adult internet marketing and C) lived in the Philippines.

    “Well that’s what all your porno people do right? Spam, spyware and sell underage videos, right?” Fucking asshole. He asked if he’d find any adult content on my computer. I said yes you would. He asked what it was for. I replied masturbatory purposes. He said huh? I make a jerk off hand motion. He got the picture. He says you know it’s illegal to bring porn into the USA, right? I said, no you’re wrong and you know you’re wrong. So long as the adult material is all 18 years old or more it’s perfectly legal.

    He asked if he was going to find any underage material on my computer. I said no, as a consumer and not a producer I’m not required to maintain 2257 documentation on content on my computer but it was all downloaded from one source (VB, yeah baby!) and that I know the folks behind that site personally, have been to their offices, and I know first hand the custodian of records who maintains all the 2257 documentation. The FUCK CHOP had the nerve to say “what’s 2257″. That’s when I started to loose my cool. I said don’t be ridiculous and don’t treat me like a moron. You can’t accuse me of having underage content on my computer and not know the Federal statutes that pertain to proof of age.

    Then he says he’s gonna have someone come down to look through my computer. Finally he drops that line about how since I work in adult advertising and live in the philippines I gotta be a spammer/spyware guy. That, more than the accusation of inappropriate content, was the final straw for me. “That’s it, I won’t tolerate this any longer. I hate spam/spyware more than you could ever know. You have been incredibly unprofessional and rude and I won’t do this any longer. Get me your supervisor now. If you’re going to do a forensic analysis of my computer I need to know now so I can reschedule my flight now.”

    “one moment sir”. 1 minute later: “here’s your passport sir, you’re free to go”. Fucking ASSHOLE!

    So since then I 100% reformat my drive and reinstall windows before I go through US customs.

  13. Datejust Says:

    I would be more concerned travelling through US-Border into the US then travelling to the European Union. Here your laptop won’t be scanned, but clean it, reformat it, secure erase it and overwrite it with bible-texts when your going back to the US.

    Within the European Union you won’t go through the customs, as you stay in Schengen-Countries. There only security-checks. They will have a look at your laptop, they check it _IS_ a workable computer/digicam/…, but the won’t check what you are working on.

    Think about the ‘Royal with cheese’-scene in pulp fiction: “It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it’s just – it’s just there it’s a little different.”

    So enjoy Europe! Drink a beer at McDonalds, drive 250+ on the german Autobahn, wonder about our metric system, have a look at beautiful European women, visit the daylife-attraction and don’t forget the nightlife.

    Greetings from Vienna, Austria, where you can still visit Mozarts flat, and visit a representation in the state-opera starting from €3.

    Greetings from Europe, where democracy was founded in the ancient world.

    Yours, Roland.

  14. zarafan Says:

    Dear Datejust/Roland,

    Thank you for your greetings and especially for the Pulp Fiction analogy: that’s just what I’m hoping and expecting from my time there!!

    Best wishes,

    Zarafan

  15. Datejust Says:

    Zarafan, write a picture-postcard to the videobox-team –

    and alison: publish it here!

  16. VERUS Says:

    …suggested that he burn the ’stash’ on DVD-R, then labelling ‘em as music…

    irhamsrevenge has identified the easiest way to avoid being hassled/embarrassed if you travel with only a carry-on. The best way in my opinion is to put the discs, or, even your laptop (packed in an impact and x-ray protective case) and check-in the porn.

    V

  17. Porkchop Says:

    You know, another solution to this would be to upload the stuff to some kind of online storage/backup site, delete it from the drive, and then redownload it when you get where you’re going, which shouldn’t take too long and ought to be doable in any Starbucks with a T-Mobile connection or something similar.

  18. Gonwana Says:

    Don’t worry at all. There’s absolutely nobody ever who will scan your computer at customs or anywhere else in the EU. I’m from Switzerland and since this country is not in the EU there are still customs at the boarder, but only immagining that that could be possible – no way! I travelled Europe from north to south and from west to east, just don’t worry.

    Have a nice trip! And if you have time, visit Switzerland.