There has been lots of talk about the ripple effects of the Trump travel ban. But here’s a new twist I hadn’t heard before—U.S. Customs and Border Control (CBP) agents are detaining U.S. citizens and requiring them to unlock their phones at the border.
According to The Verge, a U.S. born NASA scientist spent several weeks in South America partaking in his passion of racing solar-powered cars. Sounds like fun. He left for South America under the Obama administration, and came back two weeks later into the Trump administration. When he arrived from Chile at customs in Houston, he was detained. My recollection is that Chile was not on the Trump travel ban.
According to the scientist, although he was enrolled in Global Entry, and has worked for a NASA department for 10 years, he was detained and pressured by CBP agents to hand over his NASA phone and access PIN. (Did I mention that his last name was Bikkannavar?) He was not allowed by NASA policy to divulge the information on the phone, but the CBP waived a blue paper in front of him entitled “Inspection of Electronic Devices” saying they had authority to search the phone, and threatened that if he did not give them his PIN, he would not be able to leave. Although the law does not require passengers to give their PIN, reports are that if you do not divulge your PIN, you will be detained for hours at a minimum.
The scientist divulged his PIN and a border patrol officer took the device and came back in 30 minutes. This is what we have been warning U.S. companies about for years with foreign governments. But in the U.S.? With U.S. citizens?
When he brought his phone to his IT department at NASA, they were not happy. Nor would any other organization’s IT department. This is a problem for individuals and companies.
Although savvy security experts have taken extreme travel precautions when traveling to Russia or China, it appears that they are now providing advice for U.S. citizens traveling abroad and returning to their homeland in this environment.
Wired has issued “A Guide to Getting Past Customs With Your Digital Privacy Intact”, a step-by-step guide for U.S. citizens to protect their privacy when hitting the border of the U.S. from travel abroad. The experts interviewed posited that U.S. citizens should be as paranoid about CPB as traveling to Russia or China. The ACLU reports that customs agents are demanding passwords to phones and social media accounts. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has stated that foreign travelers from those seven Muslim majority countries will be required to provide their social media account passwords or they will be denied entry. Many are lamenting about whether the 4th Amendment has disappeared.
Here are what the experts are saying we should consider when returning home from travel abroad to protect privacy of our own and our company data:
- Lock Down Devices
- Keep Passwords Secret
- Phone Home to Have a Lawyer Ready to Help
- Make a Travel Kit of a Device that Stores Minimal Information
- Deny Yourself Access So They Can’t Get Access
What do we have to hide? Actually, nothing personal. So what’s the big deal? Like the NASA scientist, we are all under an obligation to protect the data of our companies and our clients, and handing over our phones and passwords with company data on it to CBP for 30 minutes is unsettling and intrusive. It is something that happens in other countries, not the United States. Other countries search their citizens without a warrant. We don’t. Well that’s just not true anymore.