Tag Archives: Searches

The Challenges of Border Patrol

I am going to try and make this non-political.  We will see if I succeed.

Customs and Border Patrol detained a U.S. Citizen active duty Army solider as he went through a U.S. airport as part of his directed orders.  The soldier, who is an American citizen, was born in Iran.

A leaked Border Patrol document says the agency directed agents to question travelers of Iranian descent, even if they are American citizens or even active duty soldiers traveling on orders.

Customers also asked the soldier for the password to his  iPhone, which he gave them, but they decided to keep his phone for further examination.

The Border agent said that the soldier’s phone number had been popping up on multiple different travelers that had been flying recently.

He asked if he could get his phone back to get information off it and they said no (which is reasonable in the context of the situation).

Since many people connect their phone to cloud services, in theory the forensics investigation could access your cloud data (of course, they can get a warrant to do that anyway), so either way, they likely have access to all of the data on your phone plus in your cloud.

The soldier does not know when he is going to get his phone back.  I am probably more paranoid than most, but I would not use that phone even if I did get it back.  He could, of course, sell the phone, but in the mean time, assuming he, as a soldier, wants to stay connected to his loved ones, he has to shell out his own money for a new phone.

In theory, Customs is only supposed to keep confiscated phones for 5 days, but they can extend that week by week indefinitely.  There are numerous stories online of Customs keeping phones for 90 days or more.

Customs had previously told the media that there was no directive to target people of Iranian descent, but after a memo stating exactly that was leaked, they changed their story and admitted that they were doing that.

So, what to make of all of this?

It would appear that Customs did nothing wrong.

Was this soldier targeted because of his heritage?  Likely but you can’t prove anything.

If Customs decides they want to keep your phone, there is nothing illegal about that and all they are required to do is give you a receipt.

Non U.S. citizens can be sent home if they refuse to unlock their phone but, for U.S. citizens, all they can do is keep your phone.  Of course, they can detain you for questioning, but unless they arrest you, they do have to let you in.  In the grand scheme of things, Customs only looks at a few tens of thousands of phones out of the many millions of people coming into the country every year, so the odds are pretty low that they would ask.

If you have business information on your phone that you are concerned about or if you are an attorney with privileged information, talk to your security team or don’t take it with you if possible (this includes all electronic devices, not just phones).

If you have adult personal information on your devices, you might not want to travel with that.  There have been reports of issues with that being shared – unproven but reported.

On the other hand, Customs is charged with protecting us and I suspect that, in general, they try really hard to do just that.

If, however, you are a citizen who gets caught up in the dragnet, well, that is not a lot of phone.

Feel free to post your thoughts.  Source: Vice