US Customs could require you to open your phone at the border — here’s how to protect your privacy

How much power do border authorities actually have? How can you know when they may overstep that authority? Can you refuse to give them access to your phone?

Former marine and cyber warfare expert David Kennedy explains what Customs can and cannot demand at the border, and what precautions you can take to protect your privacy. Following is a transcript of the video.

DAVID KENNEDY: So, is border control and Customs — are they able to search your personal devices as you’re coming into the country? And the truth of the matter is, they are.

If you’re coming from outside the United States, they have absolutely every right to go through and require you to unlock your phone or deny you entry into the United States. And there’s been different court proceedings before, in the past too, that your device itself is not considered, you know, protected information.

So, they can technically order you do that or unlock your device.

They don’t consider your thumbprint a password, per se. As far as the court is concerned, they considered it part of your body something that can be used in order to access information. So, they can absolutely use your thumb and put your thumb on there and have it open up the device and everything else. Again — has to come with a court order, especially in the United States.

Now, you can refuse that, but they could deny you entry into the country and not allow you access to get through the borders or to go through Customs to get access to the United States.

When it comes to privacy, obviously there are concerns around being able to open your device and have somebody go through your text messages, go through your phone logs, being able to replicate or copy that device so they have access to it as you’re going through Customs or border control.

So, what I would recommend, if you’re concerned about your privacy, you can absolutely wipe it and then re-initialize it as you get through Customs. You can also come with a burner phone into the United States so it doesn’t actually have a lot of the information on there. There are things you can do to minimise your risk when it comes to privacy concerns that are out there.

Using a lot of the newer technologies such as an iPhone — very difficult to get access to that unless you provide access to them.

It’s going to be up to your discretion on whether or not you decide to allow somebody into your device or to open up that device. It could come with a court order, but still, you can deny it and reap the ramifications of that later on down the road from a litigation perspective.

When you restart your phone, when it boots up, the first time you boot up the phone, you have to hit your pin number that goes into that, right? So, you have to hit, whether you have a pin number or password that goes in that device. So, if they’re requesting for you to enter your thumb it wouldn’t necessarily work.

They can still require you to enter in your password in through a court order, but you don’t have to give that information up, and they can’t take your thumb and put it on the actual device itself, you still need that password to start it up, so that’s definitely good advice.



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