US Customs and Border Protection Issues New Guidelines on the Searches Cell Phones, Laptops and Tablets


US Customs and Border Protection released new guidelines on the searching of electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets and computers last week.  The searches, according to the CBP, can help detect evidence relating to terrorism and national security matters, and other crimes such as smuggling and child pornography.  They can also reveal information about financial and commercial crimes like copyright and trademark violations.

The new guidelines supersede the agency’s previous guidelines which were implemented in 2009.  Under the new rules information that is stored on the device when it is presented for inspection may be subject to search.  Information that is stored remotely however, (information that is stored in online accounts and not on the device), cannot be searched.

Electronic searches, like physical searches, can be conducted on inbound as well as outbound travelers.  And CBP says that a main priority of any search will be the individual’s privacy.  “CBP will protect the rights of individuals against unreasonable search and seizure and ensure privacy protections while accomplishing its enforcement mission,” the guidelines read.

While searches of electronic devices have been conducted in the past, national security seems to have brought renewed focus on the importance of information contained on these devices.  “Searches at the border are often integral to a determination of an individual’s intentions upon entry and provide additional information relevant to admissibility under the immigration laws,” the guidelines read.

It’s unclear whether the new rules give the government broader powers than the old ones did, or merely clarify the rules governing these searches.  Reached for comment by ITN, CBP would only reiterate that the new guidelines, “enhances the transparency, accountability and oversight of electronic device border searches performed by CBP.”


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