Confusion reigns in the wake of President Trump’s contested Travel Ban, so what are your legal rights when entering the USA? Can officers detain you at airports or other border checkpoints? Can they scroll through your phone? What happens if you say no?

Can I be stopped or searched at the border?

Yes. It doesn’t matter if you’re an American citizen, a green card holder or a visa holder, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers can stop you or take you to secondary inspection. This might happen because officers need more information about you or your immigration status to decide whether you should be allowed into the country. It could also be a random search.

Can my things be searched?

Yes, all people and their luggage and belongings entering the country are subject to search.

Could my laptop, phone or other electronic devices be searched?

Yes, even if you’re a green card holder or an American citizen.  Your devices could be searched for many reasons, including incomplete travel documents or because your name matches a person of interest. It also could be a random search.

Could I be asked for access to my social media profiles or email?

Yes, even if you’re American. But whether you’re legally required to share this information is unclear.  In December, the US government started asking certain foreign visitors for access to their social media profiles. That request, while voluntary, is now included on a form which visitors from certain countries — including the UK, France, and Spain — need to fill out.

 What about my data on my phone?

Border agents are allowed to swipe through your phone or look through the documents on your laptop.  The government can also copy the data on your device.

But, a federal appellate court ruled in 2013 that if border agents wanted to conduct a “forensic search” they have to suspect you of criminal wrongdoing.

What if I decline to hand over my passwords or PIN?

If a foreign national is perceived as not being cooperative, there could be severe repercussions. If someone chooses not to hand over the information asked of them, the CBP can deny them entry.

Can border agents keep my phone or laptop?

Yes. They could keep your device for further examination, which could include copying your data.

How can I safeguard my device when traveling internationally?

If you don’t want it searched, don’t carry it across the border.  People who are concerned should leave their primary phone or laptop at home and travel with another device.  Make sure your device is charged so that you can switch it on if requested to do so.


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