CBP Permitted to Access Your Email Password Before Boarding a US Flight

There have many changes to air travel lately. Some rules were introduced, some implemented and still some others were discontinued. However, going forward the one policy that’s going to increase in momentum is the scrutiny of electronics. While the laptop ban was revoked and electronics were allowed back onboard flights, it didn’t come for free. Visitors to the US, especially non-citizens are going to face increased and more detailed scrutiny of all their electronic gadgets brought on board.

US Customs and Border Control have heightened their security measures surrounding electronics especially cell phones and laptops. This means the traveler could be asked to share their password to these devices and the personal pictures, emails and files available on it will be vetted trough. This could happen at any US border or Port of entry (PoE) situated outside the borders.

Some of the salient features of this policy are –

  • Travelers will have to share their cellphone and laptop passwords with CBP agents;
  • This policy allows the CBP agents to search any and all information stored on that device and access private data through software on that device;
  • They are prohibited from accessing data stored beyond the device, like ones stored on a cloud;
  • Also, any passcodes utilized to access this digital information has to be discarded forthwith;
  • This exception, too can be flexible based on the extent of reasonable suspicion or threat towards national security;
  • If the information therein is encrypted or inaccessible, the device can be detained for up to five days for further review;
  • Yr. 2017 alone has seen CBP agents conduct 30,200 searches of electronic devices on both inbound and outbound travelers;
  • This is a huge escalation compared to about 18,400 searches in 2016 and 8,000 in 2015.

This obviously raises privacy concerns for the owners of these devices. However, the Department of Homeland Security backed by the orders from the Supreme Court believe this is necessary for national security especially at a time when these electronics are being used for terrorist activities and all searches will be exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public’s trust.