By: Charles T. Wiggins
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has the right to inspect the contents of your electronic devices—iPhones, iPads, laptops, etc.—upon entry to the United States. Even if you are a U.S. citizen. That means that CBP has a right to look at every e-mail, text, or photo you have on your phone. And CBP doesn’t have to obtain a warrant to do so.
Does this seem overly intrusive? Certainly. But CBP says: “As a constitutional matter, border search authority is premised in part on a reduced expectation of privacy associated with international travel.” CBP Directive 3340-049A (January 4, 2018). CBP further takes the position that it may “inspect and examine all individuals and merchandise entering or departing the United States, including all types of personal property, such as electronic devices.”
Think your withholding your password from the CBP agent will protect against a search? Nope. CBP requires that travelers “present electronic devices and the information contained therein in a condition that allows inspection of the device and its contents.” If you don’t provide the password, CBP can “detain” your device.
Many travelers won’t mind. And most travelers won’t be asked to allow CBP to search their devices . But in 2017 alone, over 29,000 travelers were subject to these searches.
But for those who are subject to a search of their electronic devices, these searches can be embarrassing and time-consuming. And if CBP finds evidence of a crime on your device, CBP can refer the information to an appropriate law enforcement agency for further investigation.