I’ll never bring my phone on an international flight again. Neither should you.
Quincy Larson

Hi Quincy. Thank you for covering this issue (and your other articles) but there are a few inaccuracies.

  1. “But unfortunately, the US border isn’t technically the US, and you don’t have either of these rights at the border.”

Actually, the EFF link you cited points out that people do have some (very limited) 4th and 5th rights at the border. These include the right to be free from fishing expeditions (some random searching is permitted but it depends on the level of suspicion and invasiveness). And, although CBP asserts otherwise, there is no clear ground for them to demand you unlock your phone. In fact, there’s some precedent that suggests otherwise and, until recently EFF was briefing a case to try to more firmly establish that precedent. (https://www.eff.org/cases/united-states-v-saboonchi, appeal recently abandoned due to other circumstances.)

2. “It’s totally legal for a US Customs and Border Patrol officer to ask you to unlock your phone and hand it over to them. And they can detain you indefinitely if you don’t. Even if you’re a American citizen.

“The border is technically outside of US jurisdiction, in a sort of legal no-man’s-land. You have very few rights there. Barring the use of “excessive force,” agents can do whatever they want to you.”

Both are inaccurate. See above. Again, the EFF link you cite points out a case where a journalist referred CBP to her lawyers instead of unlocking and was allowed to enter.

3. “So my advice is to just do whatever they tell you, to and get through customs and on into the US as quickly as you can.”

OK advice from a comfort perspective, terrible advice from a legal or protest perspective. If a person consents to a search, that’s another basis for the search and would weaken any legal defenses later. And as far as generally sending the message that this is not OK, cooperating does not do that. EFF’s border guide is here: https://www.eff.org/document/defending-privacy-us-border-guide-travelers-carrying-digital-devices.

Final point: Medium does not allow anonymous cmments, and when I briefly attempted to log in via FB, it wanted my contact list and email. So CBP isn’t the only institution data mining.


IIAL (who specializes in this area).