WESTFIELD, N.J: Many Americans enjoy overseas travel but what they don't know is coming back into the country can be more difficult than they would imagine. Being a U.S. citizen doesn't protect you from searches, and sometimes seizures, by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
U.S. citizens can be asked to discuss their travels - why you went where you did, how long you were gone, whom you saw and what your activities were. Even if it was merely a holiday away, the authorities may ask for cellphones, iPads and computers, explaining that it's routine practice. If they find that the devices are password protected they are allowed by law to ask you to unlock them so they can examine them, and possibly download the contents.

American travelers are under the impression that they are protected from unreasonable search and seizure, but at the border those Fourth Amendment protections don't apply. When you re-enter the United States, you enjoy significantly fewer protections against searches and seizures. According to the most recent statistics, these types of searches have greatly increased, from 8,500 in 2015 to over 19,000 in 2016, and on track for 30,000 in 2017.[1]

If you refuse to provide passwords, you could be detained and your devices could be seized. Faced with that, most citizens simply provide the passwords and begrudgingly let the officers scroll through their devices. Now, with the new iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phones that can be unlocked through facial recognition, your security may be even more exposed and easier to bypass.

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against DHS on behalf of 11 travelers, 10 U.S. citizens and one permanent resident of the United States, who had their smartphones and laptops searched without warrants. The plaintiffs in the case, the searched travelers, include an Air Force veteran, a NASA engineer and a Harvard University graduate student. None of the individuals has subsequently been accused of wrongdoing.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs were coming back into the country from business or personal trips when their devices were searched by CBP officers. Officers confiscated their devices and held several of the devices for long periods of time. One of the individuals said he was physically restrained by border officers while being questioned.

Although we consider this practice an enormous invasion of privacy, it is legal. We believe search and seizure of U.S. citizens should require a judge's determination that probable cause exists to compel the disclosure of the passwords and the search. Our constitutional rights should not stop at the airport or the border.

(Posted on 16 October 2017, 1686337183 172O71O223O176)