Canadian Press. (2018). Can U.S. border guards search your phone? Yes, and here are some details on how.

Canadian Press. (2018, January 19). Can U.S. border guards search your phone? Yes, and here are some details on how. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from

“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.” (¶ 6)

“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.” (¶ 7)

“The new directive: On Jan. 4, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a new directive titled, Border Search of Electronic Devices.” (¶ 8)

“Agents can demand a password to open your phone, without probable cause, Nielsen confirmed during the hearing. However, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) staff attorney Sophia Cope says the directive, which she calls confusing, also allows you to refuse to do so. That, of course, is not without its consequences she says in a statement to CBC News. Your device could be seized or detained. The border agent could delay your travel or even deny entry if you are not a U.S. citizen.” (¶ 9)

“‘They can’t use the phone to access anything that might be stored remotely.'” (¶ 10)

“Officers are supposed to ask travellers to shut off their signal. That’s to ensure remote files don’t get downloaded accidentally.” (¶ 11)

“An officer may judge it necessary for national security purposes, such as cases where the traveller is on a watch list, to connect a phone to a hard drive, then copy its contents for analysis.” (¶ 12)

“If they can’t access a device, officers can detain it for a multi-day period.” (¶ 13)

“Lawyers can claim attorney-client privilege, citing which specific files are sensitive, and the officer must consult with customs legal counsel and the U.S. attorney’s office to determine which files should be isolated from the regular search. Medical records, proprietary business information and journalists’ notes must be handled in accordance with U.S. law, like privacy and trade-secrets legislation.” (¶ 14)

“Travellers can be present during a search, though they can’t ask to see the screen. Travellers must be notified of the purpose for a search.” (¶ 15)

“Any copies of information held by U.S. customs must be destroyed, and any electronic device returned — unless there’s a security threat and probable cause for an exception.” (¶ 16)

“Chang offers three pieces of advice — before crossing the border, delete private material or transfer it to the cloud; at the border, turn on airplane mode yourself; and, finally, be prepared, unless you have some really compelling privacy reason, to just turn over your phone.” (¶ 17)

“If a foreign visitor doesn’t comply, agents may deny them entry, EFF says.” (¶ 20)

Selected References

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2018, January 4). Border Searches of Electronic Devices. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved from
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