"Narcotics interdiction remains an enforcement priority for Customs and Border Protection, and a mission that we take very serious".
According to a 12-page set of rules and a 22-page privacy assessment, border agents can still search electronic devices at the U.S. border.
On November 2, a shipping container - from Puerto Rico - was transported from a seaport in New Jersey to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Centralized Examination Station in Philadelphia after officers detected an abnormality.
CBP is authorized to search the cell phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices of any global traveler at the border, whether or not they are USA citizens.
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Suspicion is the key element in distinguishing a "basic" search from an "advanced" one. These searches will also require supervisor approval. This is a dramatic increase from the 19,051 devices searched in 2016.
Agents can ask travellers for passwords to access devices, but these passwords cannot be stored in any fashion.
CBP said border agents searched about 30,200 travelers, or about 0.007% of the more than 397 million arriving worldwide travelers.
About 80 percent of searches are of non-U.S. citizens, said an ABC News report, noting that only diplomats are exempt. "CBP's authority for the border search of electronic devices is and will continue to be exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust".
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Pixabay/Photo-MixMore than 30,000 USA passengers have had their electronic devices checked at airports past year.
Under the CBP policies, US custom officials are instructed to ask travelers to turn off their data transmission capability, such as putting a phone in airplane mode, before an officer looks at the phone, so that cloud data won't inadvertently be viewed.
However, they also say that the directive falls "far short" in some aspects.
"The policy would still enable officers at the border to manually sift through a traveler's photos, emails, documents, and other information stored on a device without individualized suspicion of any kind".
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The ACLU said the CBP's policy change was "positive", but called for border checks to be brought into line with national laws. "Additionally, it fails to make clear that travelers should not be under any obligation to provide passcodes or other assistance to officers seeking to access their private information".