Report: Customs Agents Searching More Devices


The federal government is getting more nosy with international travelers, according to a new report.  The report from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General reveals that inspections of electronic devices at ports of entry increased last year at a much larger rate than the slight increase in the number of overall travelers.  These so-called secondary inspections take place with certain travelers after an initial inspection of their passports and travel documents.  They allow agents to examine and open smartphones, laptops or other devices.

This report comes months after the TSA announced increased electronic device searches for domestic travelers.  Adam Schwartz with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) tells KTRH it's a disturbing trend and a violation of privacy.  "(Government agents) have been searching people's smartphones, laptops and other computers, and the frequency has increased six-fold in the last few years," he says.  "They take a machine and plug it into your laptop or smartphone, and they copy every bit of data that is in your device."

The IG report also found that customs agents are often careless with the data they collect, not following proper protocols for disposing of it and protecting it.  "So, every single piece of data in people's phones, which was collected on no suspicion at all in many cases, is now floating around these offices in uncontrolled thumb drives," says Schwartz.

For their part, Customs and Border Protection officials note that the total amount of secondary inspections amounts to less than one percent of all travelers.  They also vow to comply with the recommendations in the report for improving the handling and safeguarding of any data that is collected.

As for those travelling internationally, Schwartz recommends leaving your device home and taking a backup or burner device with you.  You should also back up your device in case it is taken from you.  And above all, know your rights.  "The government is saying to people unlock your device for me, and people need to know that it is their right and their choice to decide whether they want to agree to do that," he says.


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