How To Deal With Electronic Border Serches

I travel all the time. I have Global Entry, yet just the thought of an electronic border search  although unlikely, is quite unnerving.

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Basically it involves you having to give all your passwords to the agent at border control so that they can check  your social media for subversive behavior. I suspect that if the USA gets aggressive with this to foreign travelers then other countries will get equally aggressive with Americans traveling abroad.

From what I understand, and correct me in the comment section if I am wrong, Al Quaeda, ISIS and co. encrypt their social media plots, so authorities wouldn’t find out about imminent attacks by checking cell phones anyway. I can agree that if they found someone with virulent anti-American rhetoric on their social media we shouldn’t let that person in, but how does it bode for the rest of us? Do we really want border control agents able to read all of our emails and social media and do whatever they want with them, or do we want to hold onto some measure of privacy?

You could of course get a burner phone to travel with, but for me that would be a gigantic hassle as my entire life runs through my iPhone. You could delete all social media apps from your phone and iPad, but that just looks like you have something to hide.

The whole issue is just creepy. sent me this article on the subject. If you are a traveler it is definitely worth reading.

How to Deal With Electronic Border Searches

Plus, what these more invasive searches mean for travel

man with cell phone

image via

What to do if you’re asked to hand over your phone—and what these searches may mean for the future of travel

 Most people are sailing through passport control and customs just as they did before the inauguration. But for travelers from foreign countries—particularly those targeted by President Trump’s travel ban—and the unlucky few American citizens and legal residents who get pulled aside for what is known as “secondary inspection,” tales of electronic searches and disconcerting requests from border guards abound.

U.S. border agents have increasingly been demanding to search the electronic devices of some travelers entering and exiting the country and even requesting the passwords to their social media accounts. “The idea that it will become a concerted part of screening is very new,” says Alex Abdo, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

So what does a U.S. citizen or legal resident need to know about returning to the United States from abroad—and flying domestically? Here, we break down the history of technology searches at the border, the likelihood of being searched when you travel, what you should do if you are pulled aside, and the best ways to protect your data at the border.
Electronic Searches Aren’t That Common—Yet

Phone and computer searches were happening before President Trump was elected, but privacy advocates worry they have since ramped up. Between October 2016 and March 2017, border agents searched the electronic devices of 14,993 arriving international travelers, according to newly released data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a nearly 79 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.

Searching electronic devices at the border is not a new tactic for CBP: The practice began a decade ago, in the waning years of George W. Bush’s presidency. The current policy, which allows for searches of “computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players, and any other electronic or digital devices” has remained the same since 2009.

What has changed is how invasive those searches now are, thanks to the ubiquity of social media, smartphones, and mobile cloud storage, as well as advances in computer-assisted search methods for electronic devices. These days, most smartphones are continuously logged into their users’ email accounts and apps and contain everything from medical and financial records to cloud-stored archives of digital photos and social media messages.

At the moment, technology searches may affect only a tiny fraction of overall travelers entering the United States—0.008 percent within the past six months, according to CBP.

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How to Protect Yourself and Your Data at U.S. Borders

When entering the country, travelers can protect their digital privacy in myriad ways—by traveling with data-free “burner” phones, deleting apps and sensitive data from devices, and encrypting their contents—but ultimately, if CBP officials request it, “You can’t refuse to turn over your physical device,” says Abdo. “They have clear authority to look at it.” He cautions against resisting an agent’s request to hand over a device: “We’ve seen some cases of people being physically subdued.”

U.S. citizens have not and cannot be prevented from entering the country for refusing to give up their passwords or unlocking their devices, but the issue is murkier for foreign visitors, who don’t have a right to come into the country and can be denied entry. “If you are a U.S. person, they eventually have to let you into the country, but they can make life inconvenient,” says Abdo. “They can detain you at the border for hours—there are cases where courts have approved of six-hour detention. They can take your device and hold onto it for five days.”

After a device is seized, CBP officials can take it off-site, try to crack its encryption, and copy its files and metadata, says Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney at the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. What happens to your copied data after the government has access to it? “They are supposed to decide within 21 days whether there is probable cause to keep that information,” Bhandari says. “But the notes CBP takes about you can be retained up to 75 years. If you verbally told someone your password, that could remain in a government database for a very long time.” If this happens to you, it is recommended that you change all of your passwords.

CBP officers may ask for your permission to search the content of your device. You do not have to grant it, Adbo says. “You should make clear you do not consent to searches of the devices” so as to not forfeit your legal rights. But this may very well result in your technology being taken from you for a temporary period.

Is Searching a U.S. Citizen’s Smartphone Legal?

Electronic device searches at the border exist in something of a legal gray area because the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue. The border agency believes that device searches can be conducted without suspecting a person of a crime, or of being inadmissible, at U.S. ports of entry. But some legal experts dispute this reading of the law, saying that device searches at the border are so invasive they should require a warrant based on probable cause, as they are inside the country. “Most people think the writing’s on the wall,” says Abdo. “When it reaches the Supreme Court, they will decide these searches of U.S. persons’ devices are unconstitutional.”

The agency contends that it acts within the bounds of the law. “CBP’s searches of electronic devices is based on policy that ensures a disciplined, deliberate, and lawful approach, which affects less than one hundredth of one percent of travelers upon arrival in the U.S.,” says CBP headquarters branch chief Jennifer Gabris.

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The Consequences of America’s Border Policy

The U.S. border policy is in flux right now, and technology searches may soon become more common at ports of entry, particularly for visa applicants. “Now we are hearing of proposals being floated by DHS [Department of Homeland Security] that they might ask for passwords for social media accounts for travelers to the U.S.,” says Bhandari. The proposed measures could see foreigners from all over the world being asked to turn over their devices, provide their social media passwords and financial records, and answer questions about their beliefs as a condition of arrival.

Of course, it’s not just foreign travelers to the United States who are affected by the uptick in technology searches at the border. The  valuable U.S. tourism industry, which supports 15.1 million jobs and benefits the U.S. economy to the tune of $2.1 trillion has already reported a sharp drop in foreign arrivals in 2017—which some industry groups attribute to the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

Requiring foreign travelers to disclose sensitive information such as their social media passwords could have far-reaching consequences for American travelers and legal residents. “This could lead to reciprocal requests from other countries,” warns Bhandari. “It would be chilling if this became the norm for international travel—for Americans to hand over their social media passwords when visiting other countries.”

In addition to privacy concerns, measures like this are also worrisome from a freedom of speech perspective. “Requiring foreign travelers to provide this information amounts to a test of ideology at the border,” Abdo says. “That should give anyone pause”—American citizens and foreigners alike.

“Whenever you engage in dragnet searches, you will inevitably pick up information that is useful,” he says. “If you drain the ocean, you’ll catch fish. But what is the proper balance between legitimate needs and the cost of the authority?”

Should You Sign Up For Global Entry And TSA Pre Check?


Have you been thinking about getting either Global Entry or TSA Pre Check?

If you fly internationally at least once per year, or if you travel domestically several times per year, Global Entry or TSA Pre Check is a great idea.

Global Entry is the US government’s immigration program for frequent travelers that lets you skip long lines at customs and immigration when you arrive back into the country, instead you get to go directly to the Global Entry kiosk, expediting your exit from the customs hall. 

It enables you to get out of the airport quickly, or to your connecting flight speedily.

This is especially beneficial when you are flying into an airport like JFK in New York which is notoriously slow.

It costs $100 for five years, and also gives you TSA Pre Check most of the time.

(apparently around 75% to 80% of the time)

TSA Pre Check allows you to keep your shoes and belt on, your laptop and liquids in your carry on bag, and instead of waiting in long lines you get to zip through the much shorter, quicker Pre Check line.

If you are not an international traveler you can apply for TSA Pre Check for $85.

The process is relatively simple. You fill out your Global Entry application online, pay $100 for Global or $85 for Pre Check (remember Global covers both) and then wait for GOES to notify you of your interview date.

You need to bring your passport and another form of ID as well as a print out of your acceptance email.

If accepted you will be assigned a Known Traveler Number that you put on all your flights when you book them, and that acts as your concierge.

It can take months for you to get your interview, so start the application process sooner rather than later. I have my interview in a couple of weeks, so I’m pretty thrilled!

Air France

In December I flew from Milan to JFK. I had a long layover before my flight to Phoenix which was super lucky for me because the lines at customs was long and slow. At JFK you have to completely exit out into the main terminal and then go back through security to get to your connecting flight. (You would think that New York would have modern, functional airports like other major cities around the world, but JFK and La Guardia are both archaic and somewhat of an embarrassment as far as international airports go).

To make matters worse, the TSA security lines were S-L-O-W. People around me were in tears because they were going to miss their flight, and the Airport workers at JFK are notoriously hostile and angry. It was miserable! 

When I finally got to my gate for my connecting flight I saw other people from my Milan flight who had missed their connections to their home airport because of the long lines, and were desperately trying to find ways to re-route. After a long international flight that is an even bigger nightmare than usual.

So I decided right there and then that I was going to apply for Global Entry. I have another Glam Italia Tour heading out in just a few weeks, and the Glocal Entry plus TSA Pre Check is going to be fantastic!

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Also, before you travel, especially out of the country, I cannot stress enough the importance of having travel insurance.

Should anything go wrong prior to leaving your home country you need to be able to get the money you have already spent on airfares, accommodations, tours etc back. Should anything go wrong while you are away (lost luggage, medical emergency etc) you need to be prepared and taken care of. I always use Allianz travel insurance, and get coverage that pays for a nurse to fly back to the USA with me in case of catastrophic medical emergency. Luckily nothing has ever gone wrong when I’ve traveled, but it’s definitely a good idea to be prepared.

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