U.S. border guards can search your phone-here are some details
Border agents can demand a password to open your phone, without probable cause
In one of several testy exchanges during a U.S. Senate hearing this week, the country’s secretary of homeland security was pressed to explain a new policy that allows customs agents to examine the cellphones of travellers at the border.
“I want to make sure I understand this. I live an hour’s drive from the Canadian border,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.
“If I go to Canada and visit some of my wife’s relatives, and I come back … they [can] say, ‘We want your laptop and your phone and your pass code.’ And I say, ‘Well, do you have any reason?’ They say, ‘We don’t need one.’ Is that correct? They can do that?”
“Welcome to America,” Leahy added sarcastically.
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained some of what the new policy does and doesn’t do. Some key details:
—Background: Searches of phones were skyrocketing. Border agents inspected 30,200 phones and other devices last year — an increase of nearly 60 per cent from 2016. U.S. officials say it remains a minuscule percentage of overall travellers — 0.007 per cent, or roughly one per 13,000. The Department of Homeland Security says it’s necessary to combat crimes like terrorism and child pornography.
—Customs agents have broad power: Immigration lawyer Henry Chang notes that one of his own colleagues once complained about a search, fearing a breach of attorney-client privilege: “The officer said, ‘I don’t care,”‘ Chang says. He said border guards can easily refuse someone entry: “There’s ways they can mess with you,” he said. “They can just declare you an immigration risk … detain you, turn you away until you co-operate…. That’s enough to scare people into co-operating.”