International travelers to USA continue to experience heightened scrutiny at U.S. Ports of Entry (airports). Travelers often carry an electronic device such as a cell phone or a laptop.
The current administration’s focus on border security has increased concerns about how to protect personal and corporate data contained on electronic devices from searches at the border, airport.
On January 4, 2018, CBP issued a new directive titled “Border Search of Electronic Devices.” The directive provides “guidance and standard operating procedures for searching, reviewing, retaining, and sharing information contained in computers, tablets, removable media disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones, cameras, music and other media players, and any other communication, electronic, or digital devices.”
CBP has long engaged in the search of electronic devices at the airport and the border. This new guidance addresses “the rights of individuals against unreasonable search and seizure and ensure privacy protections” while setting forth specific procedures CBP must follow in carrying out their duties.
One major topic is the type of information CBP officers may access on electronic devices. Specifically, CBP may only access information that is stored directly on the device at the time it is presented for inspection. CBP officers may not access information that is stored remotely (in the cloud). In order to ensure that this procedure is properly carried out, CBP has instructed officers to disable a device’s wireless features that would allow access of remote information.
The directive further addresses how officers should review and handle sensitive material, such as documentation protected by attorney-client privilege, medical records, and work-related information carried by journalists. The guidance does not indicate that this information is off-limits, but instead puts in place limitations on which government agencies may review and share the information in order to ensure proper security protections are in place. A CBP officer may request passwords to access any password-protected or encrypted information contained directly on an electronic device.
CBP officers have the discretion to search electronic devices when a traveler makes an application for entry into the United States. If an individual refuses to allow the search of a device, the device can be confiscated. CBP also may refuse to admit a nonimmigrant visa holder who does not comply with search requests.
The January 4th 2018 directive does not change CBP existing border search practices and policies, but provides some clarification. Electronic devices may continue to be seized if a traveler refuses to present them for inspection, but the guidance provides some specifics as to maintenance of both devices and information obtained from devices, of which detention should be limited to a “reasonable period of time.” CBP states that a device that is seized should generally not be held for more than five days to determine whether there is reasonable cause for continued search and seizure.
DHS and CBP new directive and guidance can be found here.