Our lives are extensively documented on the phones, laptops, and other electronic devices we carry. Our devices can store an unprecedented amount of highly personal information about us, including private emails and text messages, photos and videos, web browsing history, and other data that can reveal our political and religious affiliations, medical conditions, family and romantic lives, financial status, and much more. People in many professions, such as lawyers and journalists, have a heightened need to keep their digital data confidential.
The U.S. Constitution generally places strong limits on the government’s ability to pry into our private lives. At the U.S. border, however, those limits are not as strong—a fact EFF is working to change. The “border search exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement has traditionally permitted border agents to conduct warrantless and usually suspicionless searches on the legal assumption that travelers have negligible privacy interests in the contents of their luggage. The "border" includes ports of entry at the land borders, international airports, and seaports.
But electronic devices turn this reasoning on its head: your privacy interests in your phone, laptop, or tablet are extraordinary given the vastness of storage capacity, variety of content, and personal aspects of your life that electronic devices contain. EFF argues that a warrant based on probable cause, issued by a judge, is required for border device searches.
It’s past time for a new analysis of privacy at the border. EFF is working on many fronts to protect your digital rights when you cross the U.S. border:
- Read our comprehensive travel guide on how to protect your digital data when crossing the U.S. border, as well as our pocket guides.
- Learn the extensive facts about how CBP and ICE conduct border device searches that we uncovered during our civil case with ACLU, Merchant v. Mayorkas (formerly Alasaad v. [DHS Secretary])
, where we represented 11 plaintiffs in challenging under the First and Fourth Amendments the U.S. government’s practice of conducting warrantless and suspicionless border searches of electronic devices.
- Read one of our many amicus briefs: Elsharkawi v. United States (9th Circuit).
- Read the whitepaper we wrote for the American Constitution Society.
- Read our analysis of proposed legislation.
- Read our analysis of CBP’s current (2018) border device search policy.
Check out all of our work on border searches below, and join EFF to help support our efforts.
Self-Help Options If Your Device Was Seized or You're Repeatedly Referred to Secondary Inspection
- If your device was seized, did you get the name and contact information of a CBP or ICE supervisor when you received the custody receipt (Form 6051D)? If so, try contacting them. Otherwise, try contacting the relevant port of entry or field office.
- File a complaint with the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP).
- File a complaint with CBP.
- Contact ICE (e.g., Office of Information Governance & Privacy or Office of Diversity & Civil Rights).
- File a DHS civil rights/civil liberties complaint.
- Contact the DHS Inspector General.
- For U.S. persons: Contact your senators or congressional representative, and ask them to contact CBP/ICE on your behalf.
- File a Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act request. You can submit requests via the CBP website or the ICE website. You can also use the nonprofit website Muckrock to file requests with CBP or ICE.