David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Cailey Rizzo
January 17, 2018

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has updated its policy on searching electronic devices, allowing border patrol agents to detain devices of travelers who refuse to reveal their passwords.

The new policy directive states that “travelers are obligated to present electronic devices and the information contained therein in a condition that allows inspection of the device and its contents.”

Travelers who refuse to give their passwords may be denied access into the country and have their devices detained for up to a week. The agency will also be able to store data and password information — indefinitely, according to some interpretations.

In 2016, 19,051 international travelers had their phones searched by the CBP. That number was 30,200 in 2017. According to the CBP, these numbers are 0.005 and 0.007 percent (respectively) of the total number of international travelers the agency encounters.

Electronic device searches are used to find evidence in “combating terrorist activity, child pornography, violations of export controls, intellectual property rights violations, and visa fraud,” according to the agency.

“CBP is committed to preserving the civil rights and civil liberties of those we encounter, including the small number of travelers whose devices are searched, which is why the updated Directive includes provisions above and beyond prevailing constitutional and legal requirements,” John Wagner, the deputy executive assistant commissioner of the office of field operations, said in a statement. “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.”

Travelers should be aware that while a CBP agent may confiscate a device, an agent from the Transportation Security Administration may not.

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