American citizens: U.S. border agents can search your iPhone

“When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords,” Cynthia Mcfadden, E.D. Cauchi, William M. Arkin and Kevin Monahan report for NBC News. “‘It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,’ said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.”

“Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP. ‘One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone,” recalled Shibly. ‘And I said, ‘No, because I already went through this.” The officer asked a second time,” Mcfadden, Cauchi, Arkin and Monahan report. “Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend’s face turn red as the officer’s chokehold tightened. Then they asked McCormick for her phone. ‘I was not about to get tackled,’ she said. She handed it over.”

“Shibly and McCormick’s experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them,” Mcfadden, Cauchi, Arkin and Monahan report. “Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned.”

“What CBP agents call “detaining” cellphones didn’t start after Donald Trump’s election. The practice began a decade ago,” Mcfadden, Cauchi, Arkin and Monahan report. “The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks… Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals. ‘The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn’t apply at the border,’ said [Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security]. ‘That’s under case law that goes back 150 years.'”

“Now [U.S. Senator Ron Wyden] says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords,” Mcfadden, Cauchi, Arkin and Monahan report. “‘The old rules … seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can,’ said Senator Wyden. ‘I think it is time to update the law.'”

Much more in the full article here.

“According to federal statutes, regulations and court decisions, CBP officers have the authority to inspect, without a warrant, any person trying to gain entry into the country and their belongings,” Patrick G. Lee reports for ProPublica. “CBP can also question individuals about their citizenship or immigration status and ask for documents that prove admissibility into the country.”

“Does CBP’s search authority cover electronic devices like smartphones and laptops?” Patrick G. Lee reports for ProPublica. “Yes. CBP refers to several statutes and regulations in justifying its authority to examine ‘computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players, and any other electronic or digital devices.’ According to current CBP policy, officials should search electronic devices with a supervisor in the room, when feasible, and also in front of the person being questioned ‘unless there are national security, law enforcement, or other operational considerations’ that take priority.”

“With a supervisor’s sign-off, CBP officers can also seize an electronic device — or a copy of the information on the device — ‘for a brief, reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search.’ Such seizures typically shouldn’t exceed five days, although officers can apply for extensions in up to one-week increments, according to CBP policy,” Lee reports. “During the 2016 fiscal year, CBP officials conducted 23,877 electronic media searches, a five-fold increase from the previous year.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Until/unless some legal clarification(s)/protection(s) arise, travelers concerned about their privacy could extend their Fourth Amendment rights around the world by using a “traveler phone” that only contains what you want it to contain. “Sure, ossifer, here’s my iPhone and Passcode. Have at it!”

Barring that tactic, look to the cloud:

“Since at least the Snowden disclosures, conventional wisdom has been that your data is safest in your immediate physical possession, rather than the cloud, because while general warrants can (apparently) be issued against cloud data, media in one’s possession is immune to anything but an old fashioned physical search,” Ken Kinder writes for Hacker Noon. “But in the case of a border crossing, the cloud actually becomes a safer place, provided your laptop or cell phone doesn’t have access to it. As long as there’s no nexus between your device and the cloud, you aren’t crossing the border with that cloud data, so it’s not subject to search (bold emphasis added- MDN Ed.).”

“Since cloud data is immune from a border search, you can encrypt your data, store it in the cloud, wipe your devices prior to crossing, then restore your data after crossing in relative safety,” Kinder writes. “This is, obviously, an arduous process… Even worse, traveling is when we use our devices most. We entertain ourselves on planes, find amenities at airports, and even change itineraries during travel using those devices. To ameliorate some of the pain, I am creating special ‘travel-only’ Google accounts and user profiles on my devices, which will remain active while I travel.”

Much more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz,” “TxUser,” and “Sparkles” for the heads up.]


  1. Reading the article, you would understand that for the last 150 years, the 4th Amendment does not apply at border crossings. Yet it would or possibly applies as US embassies and military bases, on foreign soils. If you ask me this is not legal BS but logical. During the past 150 years this legal standard has been in place, has it ever born fruit of knowledge that make it valid other than pissing people off or abuse of power? The story described here does not seem civil or dignified at all. Seems very bruttish and thug like.

    I would like to see effective logical policy that makes sense, and treats people with dignity that hasn’t otherwise shown criminal behavior.

    1. I’ve travelled widely around the world, including Russia, China, the Middle East and some countries that were pretty hostile to my country at the time, but US CBP staff are the worst that I have ever encountered and are consistently like that. They are shockingly aggressive and incredibly uncivilised. It makes no difference if flying into a busy international airport or driving across a minor road from Canada, CBP agents often create an unnecessarily negative first impression for visitors to the USA.

      This isn’t a new thing, it’s been happening for decades and spans governments on either side, but it has become significantly worse in recent years.

      1. I remember taking a regular stop off in that country. Pretty straight forward, show your passport, step off the plane, go to the bar for a few drinks while the plane is being refueled.

        After 9-11 it was a whole different story, fill in a form show your passport step off the plane, get yourself carted by bus then dropped off into a long line up to go through another security process. In the criss crossed line I heard a woman going on about the procedure, she saw no sense to it, then she uttered the dreaded “who do they think we are, terrorists?” I leaned over to the women as we crossed and whispered to her that these people had just suffered and attack and there are cameras set up so she might want to consider a little discretion.

        I pass through the inspection without any issues, and walked back to the loading. The little old lady came back to me around that time, going on how I was right, they had gone through all her luggage and had nearly strip searched her.

        You don’t mess around at airports or border crossings but I decided after that experience that the country was no longer on my to visit list.

      2. Similar experiences. Crossing the border to Canada is simple and welcoming. Going back to US is humiliating. They point out everything you are doing wrong… “This passenger should have an enhanced driver’s license”… “Get back in the car! Get back in the car!!” I was going for my wife’s ID in her purse which was in the trunk. Sheesh

        1. My wife was brought up in the former East Germany when it was a police state run by the STASI and they were notorious for being very aggressive. However the only time in her life when she has actually ever had a gun pointed at her was at a Canadian road crossing into the USA . It was done by an incredibly obnoxious female CBP agent who felt that it was necessary to shout instructions all the time. After a few minutes a male agent joined her, took the other agent to one side and then proceeded to deal with us instead. He sort of half-aploogised for the behaviour of his colleague, but even then he wasn’t exactly welcoming himself.

  2. Just to be clear: the extension of all kinds of the Big Brother powers was signed by Obama in the last two months of his presidency. So when you hear Democrats’ fake outcry on how supposedly horrible Trump’s presidency is going to be you have to know it is all political theatre since both parties are actually for totalitarian spying and control over the citizens and for the effective annulment of all privacy protections that are available in the Constitution and other laws. Otherwise Democrats would scale back the abusive powers of the government in this regard, not increase them.

    1. Clearing up some fog:

      The ‘Big Brother powers’ began after 9/11 under the GW Bush administration via the ‘Patriot’ Act. Much of that legislative act remains today, despite opportunities to not renew them. That includes during the Obama administration, which essentially was an extension of the Bush administration in this respect.

      As to Obama ‘Big Brother powers’ being signed in the last two months of his presidency, what are examples?

      Note that any such ‘Big Brother powers’ would have had to have been executive orders or this signing of Republican approved bills.

      In any case, it’s entirely fair to point out the hypocrisy of Democrat’s outcries. They’re just as ‘fake’ as statements by the Republicans, my personal favorites being the thoroughly fake ‘compassionate conservative’ nonsense demonstrated specifically by Ryan Care 2.0, aka the American Health Care Act, or what I personally call PyschopathiCare. Such is the sociopathy of Paul Ryan, Speak of the US House.

      So point not only at the worthless Democrats. Point also at the equally worthless Republicans.

      What’s required in the USA is:
      • Actual Leadership
      • Actual Honesty
      • Actual Representation of We The People
      • Actual Christian Quality Compassion
      • Actual Protection and Defending of the US Constitution

        1. Can you stop with the Muslim BS? All of does it does is continue to make you look like ab ass. I don’t mind and like having level headed dialog with you, but not this crap.

            1. In other words, you are protesting an alleged non-reality by going on a moron strike.

              Little minds like this welcome manipulation from fear mongers because they have no sense of self, self-respect, or reality to hold on otherwise.

            2. I think you can cross botvinnik and his type off the rational discussion list. They’re tribalist republicans, rather than Americans. As Voltaire said: Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

              Count “Muslim Usurper” as one of the absurdities.

            3. You have seriously lost all credibility. Not that I believe everything my news sources, however I know not yours. First any person who watches Fox News and complains about immigrants is a hypocrite. Rupert Murdoch had the ownership of media laws changed so his children could inherit his company without having to become US citizens like he had to. He is not like most people in this country ancestors who brought their families over for a better life. Info Wars is the biggest bunch of BS I have seen. Because of 1, just 1, photo of 1 National Guardsmen holding his weapon wrong they claim the Sandyhook was a total lie to take our guns away. That over 100 people flat out lied, including people who lost their children. Rush Limbaugh has said several times he wants to bring back DDT and this time we should not let a “little bird” stop us. That bird was the bold eagle, anyone of 50 should know this. No one gave a shit about DDT until the symbol of our Nation almost went extinct. The Washington Times is owned by a Korean cult. This is why a lot of liberals can’t take you seriously, because we know your news sources. The bad part is they stop listening too and the problems just get worse. Trump has already made some big errors because he tweeted about something he just heard or read on one of your news sources. Sean Spicer has twice said Trump did not mean what he tweeted, that it was not literal. That was because if you took them literally it would mean Trump has a very misunderstanding of what kind of power he has.

              Sorry to everyone one else for the rant.

            4. More treason from The Muslim Usurper:
              “After a private meeting with billionaire investor Warren Buffett in Omaha, Neb., former President Barack Obama arrived in California’s Silicon Valley on Sunday for meetings with tech leaders.
              There were no public comments made by either Obama or the leaders he met with, as at least one news account dubbed the meetings part of the “shadow presidency.”


      1. Derek, much of this began long before Bush took office, under the Clinton Administration. In fact, the framework that became the patriot act was written by Joe Biden in 1995, and he happily takes credit for it.

        The assault on freedom in this country began the moment the U.S. Government discovered they could tap telegraph lines and hasn’t stopped since then.

        I saw no, absolutely NO EFFORT on the part of the Obama administration to reverse any of this, nor do I expect to see it under the Trump administration. I believe they are all afraid of the intelligence agencies. I can understand Democrats being for Big Government and Big Brother, but Republicans who tout FREEDOM as the primary core component of their political philosophy have no excuse for allowing things to go this far and that sir, is the fault of the people.

        Not, as you and your ilk relentlessly harp on, George W. Bush.

        1. I agree on several points. One of the big problems with expanding power in a democracy is when your party is out of office then the other side has the power. In a democracy one should expect there to be changes of power.

        2. Total agreement:
          I saw no, absolutely NO EFFORT on the part of the Obama administration to reverse any of this, nor do I expect to see it under the Trump administration.

          But then you said:

          …you and your ilk relentlessly harp on, George W. Bush

          When out in the woods hunting, one is apt to aim for the biggest target.

          I fully expect outrageous abominations from The Trump. But so far, the worst nightmare of US history remains the GW Bush administration. Hint: They knew the terrorist’s plans for 9/11. Maybe some day my country will be able to deal with that fact (proven twice BTW) and the full ramifications. If you know of something worse from some other crap presidential administration, please let me know.

      2. Search for Obama allowing the CIA to access the NSA’s database (which is a violation of a ban for the CIA to spy inside the USA) as well as Obama allowing people who cross the border to be forces to show their social network accounts and their mobile devices. Both signed in the last couple of months.

        1. DISGUSTING if that’s the case. I rarely know what to believe these days with the ‘alternative facts’ bullshit from both right and left. Meanwhile, I’d very much like to see an authority for arrest and prosecution of ALL elected federal officials who are suspected of violating the US Constitution. They’d be VERY busy.

  3. Churchill -“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”

    I guess that applies not only to Russia these days.

    1. That applies to all nations throughout all of history. Nations do not have morals, they have interests and will act in ways that best suit those interests. In the U.S. we are lucky that our generally accepted national character often coincides with what is in our interest, but as far as what is moral, that is up to us. The people. We have to watch and prevent these freedom robbing actions by our government.

      Our government is US. We have seen the enemy, etc. etc.

      We have also seen that if we make a stink about it, things will change, but unfortunately most people do not seem to care how large or how strong or how pervasive our government becomes.

  4. Thirty years ago in the ‘film age’ I had a nasty encounter at US customs. After a four month holiday touring the States and having posted upwards of fifty ‘exposed’ 35mm and roll films back to the UK, I arrived at customs with around a dozen more for my flight home. The customs officer asked me what they were and then proceeded to unroll three films to check the contents. When I objected to this stupidity since he knew full well what exposed film was, he proceeded to put the rest through the scanner and over rode the lowest setting – which was recommended for film scanning, so that every film was ruined! Such a friendly bunch of ass wipes.

        1. Tanks G! But if yer here in ‘merica you need to talk ‘merican. End don’t y’all give me its de internets. The internets is ‘merica too. Dats why we deploribles say “if ya’ll can’t talk Inglish, get the eff out of de country”! /s

          1. You need to watch Cheers. Specifically Cliff Claven. A postal carrier who talks about his life as a postman. How about watching the “Postman” a post apocalyptic story that starts with delivering mail from a dead postman. The term has been apart of our language for a long time. Rather if you … wait your trolling me.

    1. Having worked at Eastman Kodak: I’m unfamiliar with the practice of pulling of exposed film. That sounds irresponsible and worthy of a lawsuit. As for blasting film with x-rays, that sadly was entirely common, resulting in fogged unprocessed film. At the time, we recommended carrying film with your through the metal detector then having the officers hand inspect the film rather than throwing it through the x-ray machine. We didn’t recommend, but did point out various containers the purported to protect film from x-rays that could be used if film was being kept in bags that would be tossed through the machine.

      1. Year’s ago I used to do experiments that required recording the information on “positive print film” (no negatives involved). The information on those rolls were of a national security nature, yet I had to travel with them from the experiment site back to my lab/office to do the required analyses. To cap it off, the rolls were about 10 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Even under extremely low power x-rays they looked like sticks of dynamite.

        It was always a hassle, but it took a lot of extra effort on my part to get an inspector off to the side, politely ask to speak to the highest ranking person on site, and explain everything to him/her. Often they’d go into a darkened room with me and do a hand inspection. (It helped for me to travel with a low power, deep red flashlight that allowed them to minimally see one roll partially unrolled — and I always picked the roll with the least critical data on it just in case some idiot decided to turn on the room light.)

        I always got through without anything being confiscated, but I always had to allocate at least an hour to an hour and a half to go through that process.

        But this searching cell phones, tablets and laptops is obnoxious and over reaching. The laws are antiquated and are founded in physical items, not digital information.

        With the stuff I have encrypted on my phone (multiple layers in multiple apps) there is no way I’m turning all that over the a CBP person. It’s never happening. I can either get in trouble with CBP or get in bigger trouble with certain other agencies.

        Yes, even on an iPhone, there are ways to hide sections of storage from the casual observer (even on an unlocked phone), but there are ways to get around each of those methods of hiding. So, once that diversion is discovered the hassle at CBP would be even greater, so I don’t bother.

        I guess if this demand happens to me, I’ll be sitting in a cell for a while until one of the other agencies requires my release. It should prove “interesting” to say the least.

        1. I know what you mean about data hiding. It’s not exactly hard if you know what you’re doing.

          Back a few decades, when I’d travel back and forth to the UK, once I forgot to show customs at Heathrow my British passport. Instead I handed them my US passport (which included a certificate of patriality for the UK. Customs started the usual inspection, then I noted my error and pulled out my UK passport and handed it to the customs agent. He rolled his eyes and said ‘Why didn’t you show me that in the first place?!’ then waved me through. IOW: Oh you’re British, no inspection required.

          Those days are apparently over. 😛

    2. Every photographer’s nightmare. Bastards

      Where do get these people? Do they have special ignorant arsehole factories? There’s nothing like it anywhere else I’ve been.

      1. As comments from botvinnik show, the morons are not hard to find.

        There is so much reality to criticize about the last three administrations and both parties. Yet wacko’s still troll their dreamworlds.

        Human beings evolved until a few percentage of us became rational and creative enough for technology/knowledge to start to snowball. But in evolutionary terms we have not changed much biologically since then. So many individuals are still underwater when it comes to rational discourse and have no idea how subsidized they are in terms of a technological society they could never have hoped to develop with fellows at their level.

  5. The current laws are needed, especially in this climate of terrorism by people no one thought would do such a thing. Being PC is not as important as protecting the lives of US Citizens. Stop trying to be so PC and deal with reality that there are people out there who want to kill ANYBODY, not just a war of uniforms as in the old war days. The new war is against civilians just having Holiday Parties or going to a Nightclub or flying somewhere. Difficult situation but necessary practices.

    1. It’s nice to know that there are people out there who think it is not just acceptable, but NECESSARY for U.S. Government agents to rough up native-born U.S. citizens returning from eating dinner at a restaurant a 20-minute drive from their home on the border because they hesitate before handing over all their passwords for the second time in three days.

      With that mindset, you might want to apply to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a job. Failing that, perhaps the Mob is looking for enforcers.

      It is an utter misuse of the quotation, but something that Benjamin Franklin said about trading liberty for security seems appropriate in this context.

  6. What a great time to be alive!

    America, the worlds first nation, crumpling on its on amendments.
    A state of paranoïa and propaganda to induce constant fear and repressivity.

    Well done Murica!

    I’m staying out!

    1. The obvious hostility being expressed on a personal and official level in this country towards foreign travelers, immigrants, and native-born citizens who don’t look like Northern Europeans is costing the American travel and leisure industry (and other businesses catering to those groups) millions and millions of dollars. I suppose all of the people who are being thrown out of work don’t count as much as displaced industrial workers. Perhaps their contribution to the economy is just fake news.

  7. When the detention of the NASA scientist in Houston hit the fan, after this morning’s article, I decided that when I go abroad next time, I’ll leave iPhone at home.

    I got me a BLU Grand M for $78 at BestBuy (even has Marshmallow!) with free shipping to be my travel phone. It’ll have some dummy accounts and a T-Mobile Pay As You Go SIM for $3/month. It’s enough to hale an UBER.
    Put in my Thai SIM, works just fine and all they’ll get is the phone number to Jiffy Lube.

    I had never touched Android until last week. Cool keyboard thing here, ridiculous procedure there (I counted 8 steps just to turn off Caller ID!

  8. I used to travel to the US four times a year. On each one week trip I would spend somewhere between US$500 and US$1000 in clothes, gadgets, etc in addition to travel & living expenses. I no longer feel welcomed in the US and I will not return until the current paranoia disappears.

  9. There is an important part not mentioned- 100 miles into the US is a zone where your rights are essentially suspended. That covers the majority of the US population.
    Here is a link to an ACLU page on the issue complete with the 100 mile zone marked on a map.

    No Trump voters or Obama haters, this shit (8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3)) has been on the books for some time (1953) – that would be the Eisenhower (Republican) Administration. The more aggressive policing is what the Right Wingers were asking for and that is what you got- a fucking police state on our border. If you live within 100 miles of the coast or any US land border, your rights are seriously restricted under US law.

    There are some who interpret the zone to also include customs at ports of entry- which would include International Airports well within the US.

    Leave your cell phone at home, buy a burner when you get to your destination. Get a Chromebook- with no local storage- and use Cloud accounts while away.

    1. The Chromebook ploy won’t work if you have to give CPB all your passwords to avoid a rectal exam and extended detention.

      The alleged suspension of the Fourth Amendment definitely does apply at all Ports of Entry, including everything on the runway side of the customs desk at international airports.

      What is even more troubling is the increasing number of reports of people being subjected to equally intrusive searches and questioning by CBP and/or TSA while boarding airplanes. People have had their computers seized and searched without warrant or any apparent probable cause under the pretext that they might be industrial spies smuggling data out of the country.

      This has even occurred to people boarding domestic flights that stop at an international airport (which the majority of airports with scheduled service are, of course, thanks to vacation charter flights).

      My personal favorite story is Mohammed Ali, Jr. (yes, the son of that Mohammed Ali), who was detained for 8 hours entering the country, apparently for no better reason than having a Muslim name. He then went to the Capitol to petition his congressional representatives for the redress of his grievances, as guaranteed by the Constitution. For his effrontery, he was then detained for an extended time at the Washington airport trying to board a flight home to Florida.

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