The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2019 that border officers must limit their cellphone and laptop search of international travelers for one thing: digital contraband — defined largely by the courts as child pornography, according to the ruling. A new bill, the “Protecting Data At the Border Act” would make it illegal for border officers to search or seize cell phones without probable cause. The bill was introduced in 2017, and in February 2021, the First Circuit Court of Appeals took up the question and, in essence, approved of the policies that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers follow.
U.S. border agents at U.S. ports of entry have been allowed to access the cellphones of international travelers and all of their digital contents for inspection without any reasonable and individualized suspicion of criminal activity. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires that the government have a warrant based on probable cause before conducting a search.
Border agents performed 40,913 phone searches on international travelers in 2019, a 22% increase over the year before. A case now before the Supreme Court wants to limit the practice of reading emails, texts and calendar items on traveler’s cellphones. CPB said searches have helped to detect terrorist activity and thwart international crimes.
The court ruling limiting access was issued in 2019 and was overturned by a US appeals court in February 2021. Civil rights groups petitioned the Supreme Court to set a national standard for when border officials may initiate a search of a device.
Even though the new law protects international travelers from arbitrary seizure and inspection of their electronic devices, Illinois immigration lawyer Mario Godoy has the following data privacy protection tips for international travelers:
1. Protect all electronic devices with a password.
2. Protect all individual programs and sensitive files with a password.
3. Encrypt all sensitive files or the entire device.
4. Sign out of sensitive applications and disconnect from the internet before arriving at the border.
5. Know your rights before you leave the United States and your rights in any foreign country you are visiting.
Mario Godoy and the attorneys at Godoy Law Firm in Chicago and Lombard work with you to evaluate your immigration status and guide you in your immigration journey. If you need help with an immigration issue, please contact our office or call us at 630-912-0322.