Defending Privacy Rights, Protecting Personal Information from U.S. Border Crossing Agents
Feb 17, 2017 05:32 AM EST
Crossing the border to the United States often requires federal agents to search citizens and visitors, including electronic devices that are brought with them. Border crossing agents are authorized to look through one’s phone or computer, and the extent of their power has been questioned by many.
In a document released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a number of facts and suggestions relating to encounters with border crossing agents were outlined. It is known that federal agents can easily confiscate and search one’s device, and create a copy of its content for forensic experts to examine. Such action can be justified by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2004, stating that people’s privacy rights can be altered when entering the United States due to the government’s priority of protecting the borders.
"Searches of people at the border is an area where there's a wide gap between what we think people's rights are and what their facts are on the ground," American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler said in an interview with Business Insider. It has then been suggested that it is of great importance to travel only with the necessary data. Using encryption services can also be a big help; Wired and the Electronic Frontier Foundation were cited to have comprehensive guides to keeping border crossing agents from obtaining one’s data.
Similarly important is the creation of strong and unique passwords for every account and device. Turning off one’s devices completely before customs can be helpful due to the fact this is the time when encryption is at its strongest. It remains a great question, though, whether changes relating to the protection of the U.S. borders will be implemented in the future.
In a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, border crossing agents should exhibit a justifiable suspicion of crime and misconduct prior to conducting a complete forensic search of phones, computers and other electronic devices. However, they are still authorized to perform a cursory search and thumb through one’s device even without such suspicion. "In the rest of the country, the government still claims the authority to do any search they want of any electronic device anytime they want to,” Wessler noted,” which we think is a gross violation of people's privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment, but the cases have yet to work their way into the courts."