Published: Mon, January 08, 2018
Culture&Arts | By Darrell Mcdonald

US Border Electronics Searches Jumped By 59% In 2017: CBP

US Border Electronics Searches Jumped By 59% In 2017: CBP

Border officials searching travelers' electronic devices can not use them to get at information stored in the cloud, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a new policy Friday that puts some firm limits on the extent of border searches. But the practice has drawn fire from privacy advocates who argue the government shouldn't be able to search devices without warrants or probably cause.

The changes come as searches continue to spike: Officers searched 30,200 devices past year, which was up more than 50 percent over 2016. The number of searches increased by about 59 percent from 2016 to 2017, the year Trump took office.

However, the agency stressed that only around 0.007 per cent of incoming global travellers had their devices checked.

CBP also released an updated directive today clarifying how passwords and cloud data is to be handled.

CBP officials credit the spike, in part, to the fact that people now carry more devices - often several at a time - along with growing traveler volume and risk assessments.

The agency said the new directive supersedes the previous, which was released in 2009, and is created to enhance transparency, accountability and oversight of electronic device border searches performed by CBP.

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CBP agents would not be allowed to seek information stored externally or on a "cloud" linked to the device.

The agency said agents have discovered evidence relating to "terrorism and other national security measures, human and bulk cash smuggling, contraband, and child pornography", due to the searches. However, they criticized the guidelines for not requiring a warrant.

The searches can reveal everything on a traveler's phone, tablet or computer, from vacation photos to potentially sensitive documents like business records or health information.

In cases of "reasonable suspicion" concerning national security, law breaking or officer safety, agents can ask supervisors for permission to connect external devices, physically or wirelessly, to travellers' devices in order to review and copy their contents.

Electronic device border searches have always been a controversial issue, one that has at times resulted in things like a NASA employee being forced to expose highly sensitive government data.

Officers arrested the man and turned him over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

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