Keeping Research Data Secure When Traveling

A growing number of researchers at Princeton are conducting their research outside of the U.S. in a wide variety of settings, some of which may pose considerable challenges for upholding the promise of confidentiality and keeping data stored securely. When traveling in other countries, researchers should be aware of local laws regarding the legal status of confidential research information that could be confiscated by police, customs agents or other government officials.   In addition, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Department of the Treasury, and other countries have rules designed to control the movement of encryption technology that enter or exit their borders. This is important for anyone who wants to travel with a laptop computer outside of the U.S. in order to collect confidential research data

Protecting paper and electronic files

Researchers working in different settings outside the U.S. will often collect field notes, observations, interviews or informed consent using notebooks or other types of paper documents. In some cases this may reflect the researcher’s preference but might also result in situations where use of a computer is difficult or inappropriate, or simply not possible because of limited access to electricity.   In situations like this, researchers who need to keep their data and consent forms confidential need to consider how best to protect their paper document and notes while travelling. In some cases, simple precautions, such as physical separation of consent forms from data may be sufficient.   In other cases, researchers may wish to bring along prepaid, pre-addressed shipping envelopes so that they can send their documents as quickly as possible back to Princeton or some other secure collection and storage point in the U.S.

International travel and Encryption

When traveling to countries deemed as “high risk”, the University recommends that extra measures be taken to ensure that any breach of security on a traveling device does not result in a broader compromise of Princeton University systems and data. Click here for information regarding travel to “high risk” destinations.

Nearly all Princeton University-issued laptops use encryption technology that protects the privacy of the information that resides on those laptop machines. Users may not even be aware of this encryption software because it is designed to run unnoticeably in the background much like firewall or virus protection software. Encryption is controlled or restricted in many countries. Some countries ban, or severely regulate, the import, export, or use of this technology. Traveling with your laptop with encryption software installed on it to certain countries could lead to your imprisonment or cause your laptop to be confiscated.