2017 Was A Banner Year For Phone And Computer Searches By US Border Agents

Phone searches conducted by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drastically increased last year, the agency announced last week, with agents conducting 30,2000 searches of phones and other devices during the 2017 fiscal year - a 58.5 per cent increase from the prior year.

More than 80 per cent of the devices searched belonged to foreigners or US permanent residents, the Wall Street Journal reported. In addition to the number of individual device searches, the number of inbound international travellers whose devices CBP searched also increased, jumping to 0.007 per cent from 0.005 per cent in 2016.

Last year, a group of 10 citizens and one permanent resident sued CBP, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging that border searches of their devices had violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. The group includes a NASA engineer whose phone search in February 2017 was widely publicised and is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

John Wagner, the deputy executive assistant commissioner of CPB's Office of Field Operations, said in a statement on the agency's website that phone searches at the border are "essential to enforcing the law" and "protecting the American people."

Screenshot: CBP

CBP is also rolling out new policy governing border searches of phones and other devices. The policy says that agents can search a device but not cloud accounts linked to it and that they may ask for passwords to access a device but may not save them for later use.

Warrantless searches of a person's phone during an arrest are unconstitutional, the US Supreme Court ruled in 2014. However, border searches do not require a warrant, and CBP gets to set its own rules for how searches should be conducted.

[Wall Street Journal]



    Will not be going to the US any time soon,__ or even at all!

    My gut reaction would be to tell them to piss off, but then they'd just refuse you entry to the country. Or shoot you. Or both.

    What happens if someone doesn't have a phone and the agent doesn't believe them?

    Would not take phone with me. It is my company's phone, they pay the bills. Not sure what rights they have over the phone that the company owns and if I can give up a password that allows them access to my company's property.

    So I buy a burner phone, tell them the reason why, and possibly still get refused entry and turned around for a wasted 2 days air travel (or however long it is now)???

    No, I shan't be traveling to the US anytime soon, for this and a myriad of other reasons.

      Pretty sure that was part of the suit from the guy who worked for NASA. I might be mis-remembering but I'm pretty sure it was a work phone in that case. I'd like to know where that ended up actually, whether it's still in limbo.

    0.007 per cent
    My maths is pretty crap but that looks like the odds of getting harassed is 1 in 14,285 which might be enough to scare someone with a guilty conscience but doesn't seem enough to consistently catch anyone. I'd be more interested in how many of the 30,200 searches yielded actionable information in order to justify the statement "essential to enforcing the law".

      Except their searches are most likely based on profiling (insert Family Guy meme here). So they're probably (unrealistically) confident that the scheme works well.

    I'm not sure this makes much sense in these days of cloud storage and IP telephony. If I am a terrorist/etc. (and you're organised/disciplined) then there are many ways to very, very easily work around any searches of physical items at entry to a country. This feels like it's around 5 years too late.

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