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Information and Statistics on CBP Electronic Device Searches

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has released statistics on electronic device searches. In the first six months of 2017, CBP has searched the electronic devices of 14,993 individuals. This accounts for about 0.008 percent of the 189 million international travelers that have arrived in the United States. Compare this to 2015 when CBP searched the electronic devices of only 8,503 individuals — roughly 0.002 percent of the more than 383 million international travelers that arrived in the U.S.

So why have these numbers increased so drastically? CBP states that this increase is influenced by their mission to protect the American people and enforce the nation’s laws in this digital age. CBP has a broad array of responsibility. It is responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of all goods and people entering the U.S. It is tasked with determining the identity and citizenship of all persons seeking entry, determining the admissibility of foreign nationals and deterring the entry of possible terrorists, terrorist weapons, controlled substances and a wide variety of other prohibited items. All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in, or departing from, the U.S. will come into contact with CBP and is subject to inspection, search and detention.

So why have I been chosen for inspection? CBP has given numerous reasons as to why certain individuals are subject to inspection. For example, an individual may be detained, and his or her electronic device may be searched, if you have incomplete travel documents, you do not have proper documentation, you have previous violations of CBP laws, your name matches a person of interest or you may have just been selected at random. CBP is not required to obtain a warrant before a search is conducted, and your electronic devices can be detained for almost any reason. No court has ever ruled against this practice, rather it has been continuously upheld as within CBP authority.

What happens if my electronic device is detained? If your electronic device has been detained by CBP, a few things will happen. First, you will receive a written receipt (Form 6051-D) that details what item is being detained, who at CBP will be your point of contact, and the contact information you provide to facilitate the return of your property. Next, if after review there exists no probable cause to seize the device, CBP will contact you by telephone to notify you that you may pick up your device. You will be able to pick up your device at the location where it was detained, and if you are unable to do so, CBP will arrange for it to be shipped to you at their expense. If, however, CBP determines that your device is subject to seizure, based on evidence of a crime, contraband, or other prohibited items or information located on your device, you will be notified about the seizure and your options to contest it through the local CBP Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures Office.

What if I have confidential information on my device? CBP is permitted to make copies of the information on any electronic device that it detains. However, these copies will not be retained unless probable cause exists to seize the device. CBP is also obligated to adhere to all constitutional and statutory requirements applicable to privileged, personal or business confidential information. The Trade Secrets Act prohibits federal employees from disclosing, without lawful authority, business confidential information to which they obtain access as part of their official duties. Confidential business information is protected against disclosure, and there exists strict oversight policies and procedures within CBP that implement these constitutional and statutory safeguards.

If you are interested in working or living in the United States, please contact one of our attorneys to schedule a consultation today!