On April 11, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released statistics related to searches of electronic devices during the process of admitting individuals to the United States. While less than 0.1% of total travelers may be subject to a search, comparing the statistics between the first six months of FY 2017 (October-March) and FY 2016, electronic device searches nearly doubled from 8,383 to 14,993.
CBP inspects approximately 1 million travelers to the U.S. every day. Approximately 2,500 electronic device searches including phones, computers and tablets, occurred on a monthly basis beginning in October 2016. U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and visitors’ electronics may be subject to the search. According to CBP, increased electronic device searches are driven by the mission to combat terrorism, child pornography, export controls violation, intellectual property rights infringement, and fraud.
It has long been held by the courts that the search and seizure clause under the Fourth Amendment does not apply to border searches, and that information on a traveler’s electronic devices, including electronically stored personal files, may be searched at random, without a warrant. By applying for admission to the U.S., a traveler is subject to a search and does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Our best recommendation to avoid an electronic device search is to leave the devices at home, store data in cloud services, or bring a “clean device” when travelling across the border.