Know your Technological Rights
The United States government has long claimed that Fourth Amendment protections prohibiting warrantless searches don’t apply at the border, giving border agents the ability to search someone without probable cause.
Does this give them the right to search someone’s electronic devices like smartphones and laptops?
Unfortunately, the answer is still not clear. Our smartphones store a much more detailed account of our lives compared to just what we are carrying, the Supreme Court recognized this in 2014 when they ruled that the Constitution required the police to obtain a warrant to search the smartphone of someone under arrest.
Even though some argue for a similar protection at borders and customs, the government doesn’t agree.
What happens if border agents demand I turn over my device?
The government has the authority to search all electronic devices at the border, even if they have no reason to suspect that you’ve committed a crime.
If Customs and Border Protection search your electronic device, they may download the full contents of your device and save a copy of your data. According to CBP policy, they are not required to return your device before you leave the airport or other port of entry, and they may even choose to send it off for a more “forensic” search.
If your device is seized and sent off for forensic searching and there is no evidence of a crime, the government says it will destroy any information copied within 21 days.
What happens if I refuse to enter a password to unlock my device?
If you are a U.S. Citizen, you can’t be denied entry into the country but if you refuse to comply with a request CBP may be detained for longer or have your device seized and not returned to you for weeks or months.
It is always recommended that you enter the password yourself rather than giving it to a CPB agent. They may still ask that you share it, but it’s a precaution worth trying to take.
What can I do to prepare?
Here are some precautions you can take to ensure everything goes smoothly.:
Travel with as little data and as few devices as possible.
Encrypt devices with strong and unique passwords and shut them down when crossing the border.
Back up any photos or documents you don’t want to be accessed to a cloud and delete them from your device.
Know your rights! If you believe you fall under any kind of special category make sure you have a lawyer to call if needed.