US Customs says it can search iPhones, but not cloud services

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While U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents can search an American traveler's iPhone, they're not allowed to search any data stored in the cloud, the CBP said recently in response to questions by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.




In February, Wyden pressed the Department of Homeland Security on the "deeply troubling" practice of border agents asking U.S. travelers to provide passwords and access to social media accounts, according to NBC News. The CBP's response, dated June 20, claimed that with few exceptions, several laws give officers the right to search phones without probable cause when people leave or enter the U.S., and that the practice protects against threats like terrorism and child pornography.

Those searches are supposed to be limited to data saved on-device, said acting CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan. He noted that in April, his organization issued guidelines reminding agents about the issue -- but he has also refused to make the guidelines public, stating that they're "law enforcement sensitive."

McAleenan also omitted some statistics requested by Wyden, which might've shown how many border searches of phones are being conducted on behalf of organizations like the FBI.

"CBP is assessing whether further data collection can assist in administering the careful use of this authority in the future," he said.

He did suggest that searches of phones belonging to U.S. citizens is "exceedingly rare," although the CBP's own data indicates that searches tripled between Oct. 2015 and Oct. 2016, and increased again in March 2017. The agency hasn't said how many international travelers are being stopped, or how many searches are being conducted by other DHS branches, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Apple has put an increasing emphasis on its cloud services, such as Apple Music and iCloud Drive, and indeed many iPhone users are dependent on third-party platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail.

The company has taken flak from some in government -- including now-President Donald Trump, and former FBI director James Comey -- about its use of encryption for both local and cloud data. People like Comey have complained of communications "going dark" to spy and law enforcement agencies, saying it hampers legitimate investigations.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 93
    lmaclmac Posts: 195member
    If this comes to pass, I'm writing a big fat check to the ACLU, putting my phone in my checked bag, and disabling the fingerprint activation. And no, I've got nothing to hide.
    jahbladespice-boyanantksundaramStrangeDaysSpamSandwichlongpathlostkiwiwatto_cobragregoryhktoysandme
  • Reply 2 of 93
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    While U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents can search an American traveler's iPhone, they're not allowed to search any data stored in the cloud, the CBP said recently in response to questions by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

    Those searches are supposed to be limited to data saved on-device, said acting CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan. He noted that in April, his organization issued guidelines reminding agents about the issue -- but he has also refused to make the guidelines public, stating that they're "law enforcement sensitive."
    Wording in this case becomes important. If data exists on BOTH the device and the cloud then I believe legal authority to access the pertinent cloud data if need be will be claimed too.
    jahbladeronnjony0
  • Reply 3 of 93
    curtis hannahcurtis hannah Posts: 1,767member
    gatorguy said:
    While U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents can search an American traveler's iPhone, they're not allowed to search any data stored in the cloud, the CBP said recently in response to questions by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

    Those searches are supposed to be limited to data saved on-device, said acting CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan. He noted that in April, his organization issued guidelines reminding agents about the issue -- but he has also refused to make the guidelines public, stating that they're "law enforcement sensitive."
    Wording in this case becomes important. If data exists on BOTH the device and the cloud then I believe legal authority to access the pertinent cloud data if need be will be claimed too.
    That is where the question lies, a lot if data now can be in either and the only way to tell is when the download comes on(if it does ), and then that raises the question.
  • Reply 4 of 93
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    lmac said:
    If this comes to pass, I'm writing a big fat check to the ACLU, putting my phone in my checked bag, and disabling the fingerprint activation. And no, I've got nothing to hide.
    If you are a US citizen coming home you will be allowed re-entry but your smartphone may not be, seized for further inspection if you refuse to unlock it on request. If a foreign resident US Border agents may simply deny entry to you and send you away. Both are of course by your choice. 
    edited July 2017 lkruppstantheman
  • Reply 5 of 93
    longpathlongpath Posts: 226member
    So CBP claims that legislators violated their oath of office by drafting and passing legislation that violate a plain reading of the Bill of Rights....again. I suppose I should be shocked; but even Washington didn't leave office before signing off on legislation that defied the supposed protections of the Constitution, so this is hardly a new development.
    welshdog
  • Reply 6 of 93
    anton zuykovanton zuykov Posts: 1,040member
    gatorguy said:
    While U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents can search an American traveler's iPhone, they're not allowed to search any data stored in the cloud, the CBP said recently in response to questions by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

    Those searches are supposed to be limited to data saved on-device, said acting CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan. He noted that in April, his organization issued guidelines reminding agents about the issue -- but he has also refused to make the guidelines public, stating that they're "law enforcement sensitive."
    Wording in this case becomes important. If data exists on BOTH the device and the cloud then I believe legal authority to access the pertinent cloud data if need be will be claimed too.
    Correct, because they CAN legally access anything that is stored on the device. So, if there is a local copy of your iCloud data stored on your device (whether it is dynamically retrieveable or not from the cloud service), they can access it, as long as it is on the device.
  • Reply 7 of 93
    retrogustoretrogusto Posts: 739member
    I love the Mobile Pass app, but it just occurred to me that to use it you do have to unlock the phone at both customs checkpoints, which does kind of invite a search. I don't think I have anything in particular to hide, but the idea of some stranger rifling through my phone is still kind of creepy, and bound to waste a lot of time. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 93
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 828member
    I love the Mobile Pass app, but it just occurred to me that to use it you do have to unlock the phone at both customs checkpoints, which does kind of invite a search. I don't think I have anything in particular to hide, but the idea of some stranger rifling through my phone is still kind of creepy, and bound to waste a lot of time. 
    This is it exactly. I have nothing to hide legally as well just don't like the idea of some stranger going through my phone.  Passwords can be changed immediately as well, just don't like some customs agent going randomly through my phone , just because he/she can.  Creepy is the way I would describe it as well. 
    longpathjbdragon
  • Reply 9 of 93
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 19,385member
    Colon inspections next.

    And the sheep will want even more.
    lostkiwitoysandmeviclauyyc
  • Reply 10 of 93
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 977member
    Would wiping a phone before flying (after an encrypted backup to iCloud) solve the problem of a search? 
    jdwviclauyycjbdragon
  • Reply 11 of 93
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,288member
    I guess it's some comfort that at least with fingerprint enabled your actual password is not compromised. The agent, being able to see your actual password would be able to put that together with your identity and sell it or go phishing. 
    longpath
  • Reply 12 of 93
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    spice-boy said:
    Would wiping a phone before flying (after an encrypted backup to iCloud) solve the problem of a search? 
    Sure. It would not prevent them looking at it tho even tho there's nothing there to see. 

    But if you are suspected of being involved in a major crime Apple may turn over your backed-up cloud data to them anyway with a lawful order to do so. IMHO At the end of the day the only ones with a worry for the foreseeable future are those folks who who seem to be out to cause harm but not be discovered and suffer the consequences. Yes the law enforcement agencies may be protecting your rights to safety and security while depriving certain individuals of the chance to take it from you. I don't personally see the issue with that. If someone does I think they may suffer from a grandiose view of their own importance.
    edited July 2017
  • Reply 13 of 93
    lmaclmac Posts: 195member
    gatorguy said:
    lmac said:
    If this comes to pass, I'm writing a big fat check to the ACLU, putting my phone in my checked bag, and disabling the fingerprint activation. And no, I've got nothing to hide.
    If you are a US citizen coming home you will be allowed re-entry but your smartphone may not be, seized for further inspection if you refuse to unlock it on request. If a foreign resident US Border agents may simply deny entry to you and send you away. Both are of course by your choice. 
    Without probable cause, this is an illegal search, and nothing more than a fishing expedition. Challenge it. We only have a right to privacy if we fight for it.
    Option 1: What smartphone? I don't own one.
    Option 2: Forgot my password. Oops. My bad.
    Option 3: Use a cheap burner when crossing international borders.
    Option 4: If enough citizens say "go ahead, seize my phone, I'm not unlocking it even though there's nothing on it of value to you" it will completely bury them and stop this stupidity.
    longpathtallest skilanton zuykovmacxpressviclauyyc
  • Reply 14 of 93
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,581member
    his organization issued guidelines reminding agents about the issue -- but he has also refused to make the guidelines public, stating that they're "law enforcement sensitive."

    ...when law enforcement won’t disclose the laws they’re enforcing, we have problems. this isn’t how a free and open society works. These bozos seem to forget they work for us. Government is for the people, not for itself. 
    edited July 2017 longpathlostkiwilmacdesignrpscooter63
  • Reply 15 of 93
    phone-ui-guyphone-ui-guy Posts: 1,018member
    I power down my devices before entering customs. No way I am letting them search my phone and computer willingly. The biggest problem with their "search" is that it has been reported that they backup your device once you unlock it. 
    longpathviclauyyctransmaster
  • Reply 16 of 93
    lmac said:
    gatorguy said:
    lmac said:
    If this comes to pass, I'm writing a big fat check to the ACLU, putting my phone in my checked bag, and disabling the fingerprint activation. And no, I've got nothing to hide.
    If you are a US citizen coming home you will be allowed re-entry but your smartphone may not be, seized for further inspection if you refuse to unlock it on request. If a foreign resident US Border agents may simply deny entry to you and send you away. Both are of course by your choice. 
    Without probable cause, this is an illegal search, and nothing more than a fishing expedition. Challenge it. We only have a right to privacy if we fight for it.
    Option 1: What smartphone? I don't own one.
    Option 2: Forgot my password. Oops. My bad.
    Option 3: Use a cheap burner when crossing international borders.
    Option 4: If enough citizens say "go ahead, seize my phone, I'm not unlocking it even though there's nothing on it of value to you" it will completely bury them and stop this stupidity.
    Exactly.  The "without probably cause" element of this is patently outrageous.  Yes, if they have a legitimate reason to be believe that I'm a terrorist or engaging in a criminal act, then there should be a way for them to search my phone.  But reading my email, checking out my photos, reading my documents just because they feel like it?  Fourth amendment violation, pure and simple.  I hope that if this happens to me that I'll have the guts to refuse to unlock my phone.  Then afterwards I'll seek assistance for a law suit for their illegal seizure of my stuff.
    edited July 2017 lmacviclauyyc
  • Reply 17 of 93
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,716member
    This is a travesty. You have no right to my data on my phone. It's an invasion of privacy. 
    Solilongpathtallest skilmacxpress
  • Reply 18 of 93
    dachardachar Posts: 330member
    gatorguy said:
    lmac said:
    If this comes to pass, I'm writing a big fat check to the ACLU, putting my phone in my checked bag, and disabling the fingerprint activation. And no, I've got nothing to hide.
    If you are a US citizen coming home you will be allowed re-entry but your smartphone may not be, seized for further inspection if you refuse to unlock it on request. If a foreign resident US Border agents may simply deny entry to you and send you away. Both are of course by your choice. 
    I know security is important but this kind of report is another reason to add to my list why I don't wish to visit the USA. 
    lostkiwiviclauyyc
  • Reply 19 of 93
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    dachar said:
    gatorguy said:
    lmac said:
    If this comes to pass, I'm writing a big fat check to the ACLU, putting my phone in my checked bag, and disabling the fingerprint activation. And no, I've got nothing to hide.
    If you are a US citizen coming home you will be allowed re-entry but your smartphone may not be, seized for further inspection if you refuse to unlock it on request. If a foreign resident US Border agents may simply deny entry to you and send you away. Both are of course by your choice. 
    I know security is important but this kind of report is another reason to add to my list why I don't wish to visit the USA. 
    Serious question: What countries do you visit where they don't have restrictions and rules on what can be brought into their country, and that personal property of yours cannot be searched. 
  • Reply 20 of 93
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    lmac said:
    gatorguy said:
    lmac said:
    If this comes to pass, I'm writing a big fat check to the ACLU, putting my phone in my checked bag, and disabling the fingerprint activation. And no, I've got nothing to hide.
    If you are a US citizen coming home you will be allowed re-entry but your smartphone may not be, seized for further inspection if you refuse to unlock it on request. If a foreign resident US Border agents may simply deny entry to you and send you away. Both are of course by your choice. 
    Without probable cause, this is an illegal search, and nothing more than a fishing expedition. Challenge it. We only have a right to privacy if we fight for it.
    Option 1: What smartphone? I don't own one.
    Option 2: Forgot my password. Oops. My bad.
    Option 3: Use a cheap burner when crossing international borders.
    Option 4: If enough citizens say "go ahead, seize my phone, I'm not unlocking it even though there's nothing on it of value to you" it will completely bury them and stop this stupidity.
    Exactly.  The "without probably cause" element of this is patently outrageous.  Yes, if they have a legitimate reason to be believe that I'm a terrorist or engaging in a criminal act, then there should be a way for them to search my phone.  But reading my email, checking out my photos, reading my documents just because they feel like it?  Fourth amendment violation, pure and simple.  I hope that if this happens to me that I'll have the guts to refuse to unlock my phone.  Then afterwards I'll seek assistance for a law suit for their illegal seizure of my stuff.
    Personally I think that in nearly every case if they take the time and make the effort to search anyone's phone there is cause to do so. According to the Border Patrol VERY few travelers have been singled out. The ones that were raised attention IMO and thus "just cause". 
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