Thinking about crossing the US Border anytime soon… or ever? Do you think you are protected by privacy in doing so? Think again, because unless you have some sort of diplomatic immunity, a border agent can download the entire content of your computer at border crossings. An explosive Homeland Security document uncovered by MuckRock (source), entitled “Privacy Impact Assessment for the Border Searches of Electronic Devices” outlines just how much data can be accessed from citizens and non US citizens alike.
Just how much? If you guessed “a lot”, you’re right. Among other things, agents can, according to the document, download the entire content of your computer.
Vice News writes “The US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Privacy Impact Assessment for the Border Searches of Electronic Devices outlines the finer points of border officials’ authority to search the electronic devices of citizens and non-citizens alike crossing the US border.
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What becomes clear is that this authority has been broadly interpreted to mean that any device brought into or out of the country is subject to the highest level of scrutiny, even when there is no explicit probable cause.
Based upon little more than the opinion of a single US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, any device can be searched and its contents read. With approval from a supervisor, the device can be seized, its contents copied in full, or both.“
This document is making waves across the privacy rights community, with many outraged at the almost unlimited power given to these border officers.
Vice continues: “Travelers may also be randomly selected by a system referred to as COMPEX, a somewhat unwieldy acronym for “ Customs’ Compliance Measurement Examination.” This system randomly chooses travelers for additional screening. The results of these screenings are compared to screenings based on other selection criteria in order to assess their effectiveness.
Finally, the CBP official might refer a traveler based on his or her “own observations.” This final option is a particular cause for concern, because little explanation has been given as to what that might entail. As a recent piece for The Intercept demonstrated, at least one of the processes used by the TSA to flag potential terrorists can be used to justify detaining anyone.
If you are referred for a secondary inspection, your right to privacy is essentially moot. Either a CBP officer or an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent will likely question you and may inspect your possessions. This can mean anything from a quick look through your bags to copying and detaining your electronic devices—it’s up to the agent and his or her supervisor, not due process.
In other words, once you are selected, you will be asked to hand over everything you own, including your laptop. At that point, the document says ““There is no specific receipt given to the traveler if the contents of the device are detained for further review, but the device is returned to the individual,” reads the report. This doesn’t necessarily preclude a verbal confirmation, but at least this document doesn’t explicitly require one either.”
Regardless of what your views on security searches are, do you think it’s fair for an officer to have the ability to download the entire content of your computer at border and view it all at his or her own discretion? For much more information on this document that has been uncovered, click here.
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