Monday, 15 October, 2018

U.S. searches of int'l travelers' electronic devices soar in 2017

Approximately $22M worth of cocaine seized at Port of Philadelphia Approximately $22M worth of cocaine seized at Port of Philadelphia
Judith Alexander | 09 January, 2018, 01:03

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers conducted 30,200 searches of travelers' electronic devices in the fiscal year 2017, up almost 60 percent from 19,051 in 2016, according to the newly published data.

Agents will now need to have "reasonable suspicion" to conduct advanced searches, which may include copying data from the devices of people entering or leaving the country, the patrol said in new guidance published on Friday.

CBP, an agency part of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), last updated the guidelines in August 2009. This means that anything that can not be accessed without a data connection is off-limits to police officers in a "basic" search.

Basic searching involves the aforementioned browsing of files.

An Advanced Search is when the CBP agent connects the user's device to an external system specialized in deeper searches.

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"To avoid retrieving or accessing information stored remotely and not otherwise present on the device, Officers will either request that the traveler disable connectivity to any network (e.g., by placing the device in airplane mode), or, where warranted by national security, law enforcement, officer safety, or other operational considerations, Officers will themselves disable network connectivity", the new procedures state.

"CBP's authority for the border search of electronic devices is and will continue to be exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust", said John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner, office of field operations, in a statement.

Privacy advocate Ron Wyden, a U.S. senator, said "far too many" searches were being carried out by the CBP, and argued constitutional rights should not disappear at the border. This is a dramatic increase from the 19,051 devices searched in 2016.

CBP is authorized to search the cell phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices of any global traveler at the border, whether or not they are USA citizens.

CBP is authorized to search any device of any worldwide traveler, no matter they are USA citizens or not, as they leave or enter the United States, similar to a bag search. "CBP border searches of electronic devices have resulted in evidence helpful in combating terrorist activity, child pornography, violations of export controls, intellectual property rights violations, and visa fraud".

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