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Border officials searched many more electronic devices in 2017
Last year, 30,200 international travelers, including U.S. citizens, had their devices screened compared to 19,051 in 2016.
By Delila James
Contributor
Jan 12, 2018

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WASHINGTON D.C. — Warrantless searches of electronic devices increased dramatically in 2017, according to statistics released Friday by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Last year, 30,200 international travelers, including U.S. citizens, had their devices screened compared to 19,051 in 2016. The year before that, only 8,053 people had to submit to searches of their devices, including their private emails, photos, social media messages, and other personal files.

Officials can demand passwords, although they must destroy them after the search, according to the CBP's new guidelines.

While fewer than 1 percent of travelers have their devices screened, privacy advocates are alarmed by the increase in searches and say U.S. citizens should not be subjected to warrantless searches when crossing the border.

"The idea that they can be searched just by entering or leaving the country we are citizens of it goes against the very thing the 4th Amendment was designed to protect against, which is arbitrary dragnet surveillance," said privacy law expert Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, in a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Screening of electronic devices is a matter of national security, according to John Wagner, the CBP's deputy executive assistant commissioner in charge of field operations.

"In this digital age, border searches of electronic devices are essential to enforcing the law at the U.S. border and to protecting the American people," Wagner said, as reported by the LA Times.

The new guidelines, which also bar access to information stored on a digital cloud, are inadequate, said American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, Neema Singh Guliani.

"The policy would still enable officers at the border to manually sift through a traveler's photos, emails, documents and other information store on a device without individualized suspicion of any kind," Guliani noted.