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Foreign travel can sometimes attract attention from government security services and other entities who are interested in finding out more about you and the purpose of your trip. Occasionally, surveillance is used to target individuals for crime, such as robbery. Travelers who spend a substantial amount of time in countries whose relationship with the U.S. is strained (e.g. Cuba, China, Russia, etc.) and fail to vary their daily routine or cause attention to themselves are at a higher risk for surveillance.

There are two main types of surveillance: fixed and mobile. Fixed surveillance usually involves a stakeout and/or the electronically monitoring of activities. Mobile surveillance is conducted on-the-move in the form of a walk-by, drive-by, or the following of a target. 

Become a hard target for surveillance

  • Be suspicious (but polite) if you have repeated accidental interactions with a local individual who is not involved in the purpose of your visit; or a stranger wants to begin a “friendly” relationship with you (e.g. practice English, talk about the U.S. or politics)
  • Be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts; it is important to be aware of your surroundings when you are in a public space
  • Be unpredictable; avoid patterns and routines by varying your daily activities
  • Predetermine safe areas along your commute routes; examples include embassies/consulates, hospitals, schools and police stations
  • Limit the amount of personal information you divulge to strangers or new acquaintances; refrain from discussing political viewpoints, family details (e.g. names of parents or siblings, etc.) and itinerary information
  • If you are staying in a hotel in a country with heavy government surveillance, consider the possibility that your room may be equipped with voice or video recording devices; do not do or say anything in your room that would cause you trouble or embarrassment if made public
  • If your accommodation site includes a safe for your valuables, put electronic devices, such as your phone or laptop, in it while sleeping or not in use; in some countries, a bad actor may be more interested in the technology employed by your device than the content stored in it, but these “bugs” can interfere with operating systems
  • Become familiar with the normal activity in your neighborhood; any behavior that triggers your suspicion should be avoided and reported to the nearest consulate/embassy and Northwestern’s Office of Global Safety and Security
  • If you are traveling to a country that has strained relations with the U.S., be aware that interactions with someone from the host government may be unavoidable; however, do not let the relationship become more than the professional level
  • If someone is following or watching you, do not confront them, as this could lead the surveillance team to believe you are not a normal traveler; move quickly to a populated area or a safe space, and report the incident to the nearest embassy/consulate and the Office of Global Safety and Security