February 1, 2017 | By Sophia Cope and Danny O'Brien

Invasive Digital Border Searches: Tell EFF Your Story

A border agent holds up a smartphone, turning the screen red.Following President Trump’s confusing executive order on terrorism and immigration, reports surfaced over the weekend that border agents at airports were searching the cell phones of passengers arriving from the Middle East, including U.S. permanent residents (green card holders). We’re concerned that this indicates an expansion of the already invasive digital practices of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is why we’re asking for your digital border search stories.

CBP has for some time now had a practice of demanding from both Americans and foreigners social media information and access to digital devices, which store on the devices themselves highly personal information and communications or link to cloud-based apps with equally sensitive data.

Last week, for example, we wrote about complaints by Muslim American citizens that CBP accessed public posts by demanding social media handles, and potentially accessed private posts by demanding cell phone passcodes and perusing social media apps. Border agents also allegedly physically abused one man who refused to hand over his unlocked phone.

CBP has also searched or attempted to search the digital devices of journalists, including a Wall Street Journal reporter who is an American citizen. Other Americans are also subject to seizure and search of their digital devices at the border, including one Iranian-American dual citizen who was returning to the U.S. from vacation to Niagara Falls and on whose behalf we wrote an amicus brief.

Last fall, we submitted comments to CBP opposing a proposal, which was approved in December before President Trump took office, to ask foreign visitors from Visa Waiver Countries voluntarily to disclose their social media handles. And CNN reported recently that the Trump Administration is contemplating requiring all foreign visitors “to disclose all websites and social media sites they visit, and to share the contacts in their cell phones.”

Given these recent developments, we’re worried that the invasiveness and frequency of device searches and investigations into the digital lives of travelers are increasing.

As part of our work to combat what we believe to be unconstitutional practices at the border, and to better understand how the Trump Administration’s new policies may be changing border practices, we would like to hear your stories.

Please let us know if a U.S. official at the border examined your cell phone, laptop, or other digital device; asked for your device’s passcode or ordered you to unlock or decrypt it; or asked for your social media handles.

We would like to hear from everyone, but especially if you are a citizen or permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States.

Please tell us:

  • Your legal status in the U.S. (citizen, permanent resident, visa holder).
  • What airport or border crossing you were at.
  • What devices you had with you.
  • What border agents specifically demanded (including social media handles and passcodes) or what they specifically looked through.
  • Whether border agents recorded any information.
  • Whether border agents stated or suggested that compliance with their demands was voluntary or mandatory.
  • Whether border agents threatened you in any way.
  • Whether border agents stated any reasons for their demands.

You can write to us at borders@eff.org. If you want to contact us securely via email, please use PGP/GPG. Or you can call us at +1-415-436-9333.


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