U.S. Customs can search phones but not data stored solely in the cloud

“If you’re entering or exiting the US anytime soon, take note: border officials can search your devices with or without probable cause, but they can’t touch anything stored solely in the cloud,” Mariella Moon reports for Engadget. “Acting US Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McALeenan has revealed the limit of the division’s power in a response to Senator Ron Wyden’s letter to Homeland Security.”

CBP’s authority to conduct border searches extends to all merchandise entering or departing the United States, including information that is physically resident on an electronic device transported by an international traveler. Therefore, border searches conducted by CBP do not extend to information that is located solely on remote servers. — Acting US Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McALeenan

“McALeenan also clarified that you can refuse to give the password to your phone or computer,” Moon reports. “They have the right to detain your device, though, and you might risk not being able to get into the country if you’re not a citizen.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Regarding American citizens, as we wrote last month:

Until/unless some legal clarification(s)/protection(s) arise, [U.S] 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.

U.S. Immigration spent record amount on phone hacking tech just after President Trump’s travel ban – April 13, 2017
American citizens: U.S. border agents can search your iPhone – March 14, 2017
How to get past customs without surrendering your digital privacy – February 17, 2017


  1. I wonder what they look for? Do they look for the folder called “My Terrorist Plans to Drop Dirty Bombs in Los Angeles?”

    Do they suck out all the numbers you called while abroad and compare them to some list? I really wonder what they look for.

    I’m betting they just suck everything off the device they can, and ship it off to the NSA for examination.

    1. Nope— ALL emails, phone numbers, metaData etc etc is simply “Hoovered” up from alllll the trunk lines and phone/data sources in the world. Link analysis is done as needed by the “Machines”.
      What could go wrong with the DeepState mis-using the data……

  2. The article states: “the division authorizes officials to conduct searches without warrants to determine if a device contains child pornography or anything that could be a threat to national security.”

    That nation is so paranoid, everything is a threat to their precious national insecurity.

      1. Oh please, innocent until proven guilty. Of course if the shrub was brought to the Hague it certainly would make for a good court case where it could be settled and clarified.

        We won’t see that though, the shrub hides behind the feathered wall.

        Nice to see you again.

  3. Does anyone else find it ironic (and moronic) that, while the article’s author professes to be worried about having his data searched, he uses Google accounts? Is he truly that retarded?

  4. take note: border officials can search your devices with or without probable cause

    That’s giving up. If you’re a US citizen entering the USA via US Customs, no they can’t. Show them the Fourth Amendment. They may persist and pull dirty tricks like making you sit around some boring room for whatever and whyever, but they have NO right to search your person, paper or effects without a legal warrant. Bring a copy of the US Constitution with you and point at it for them to read:

    The Fourth Amendment To The US Constitution

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    But if you’re not a US citizen at a US border, you’re subject to the laws of the land you’re entering.

    With the stories of this new totalitarian attitude at US borders, I strongly suspect something will end up at the US Supreme Court, where the Fourth will be of course upheld. There are no exceptions to the Constitution.

    [And no, I’m not setting myself up for a comment war. I’m just pointing out the obvious.]

    1. I have no problem with searches as long as there is REASON as stated in the Constitution with a legal Warrant.

      But then, I often ask myself (as an honesty check), “Why is it okay to search passengers at airport security?”. Is it because it protects from imminent danger? Is it to comply with “Terms of Passage?”

      Though I agree, you might be a bit too optimistic Derek, especially THIS court. I mean, who ever thought Citizen’s United would be upheld?

    2. I’ve read that they get away with searching US citizens – regardless of the 4th Amendment – because the border zone is not technically within the US, and so the US Constitution doesn’t apply. Nasty little loophole.

    3. Derek, how are you doing? Long time no see.
      Love the post, that “if you are not a citizen then you are subject to the laws of the land” comment is hilarious.

      Just what are those laws, I mean we’ve seen your nation go from prisoners of war (treat them like human beings) to enemy combatants (torture them).

      I mean does your country even consider non-citizens to be human? The actions of your nation seems to indicate that it’s open season to non-citizens and that you can do anything you want to them, heck they don’t even have to come to the border, your country is more than willing to totally disregard the sovereignty of other countries and go there and massacre them.

      So what exactly are these so called laws of the land? I bet it’s a hilarious read, you know great ideas, no implementation of them what so ever.

      Great seeing you again.

        1. Oh I think the shrub did a pretty good job at disregarding the constitution as well, but you did do a MAGA (Make Assholes Go Away) performance with those two and two out of three ain’t bad.

      1. This thread is taking on a theme. I think the key word is ‘loophole’ as Majikthize pointed out. There are laws. But then there are in-between-ies where anything goes. Guantanamo Bay prison for ‘enemy combatants’ where no international or US laws apply. No Geneva Convention. No Habeas Corpus.

        The wars situation is full of complexities, but I see that point as well.

        All of this, of course, qualifies totalitarian. Terrorism is of course unacceptable and must be stopped within all legal means. But it’s taken as a cue and a justification for bloated fear mongering (FUD) and the suppression of fundamental freedoms. I know we’re going to see plenty more…

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