If you’ve flown domestically in the last year, you know the drill. Take off your jacket, belt, and shoes and place them in a bin. Remove your quart-sized bag of 3.4 oz liquids and place them on top. Pull out your laptop, iPad, e-reader, gaming device, and any other electronic device larger than a cell phone, and place them in another bin. Shuffle through the full body scanner while keeping an eye on your belongings, then pack everything back up before heading to your flight. But what about all the data on your electronic devices—is that subject to a search?
While Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has publically issued directives for its border searches of electronic devices for international travelers, the ACLU is alleging that that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now searching domestic travelers’ phones, computers, tablets, and other devices, and that their policies on searching those devices “remains shrouded in secrecy.” The ACLU previously filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in December 2017 seeking records related to (1) the policies, procedures, or protocols regarding the search of passengers’ electronic devices; (2) the equipment, including SIM-card readers, used to search, examine, or extract data from passengers’ devices; and (3) the training of the TSA officers conducting the screenings, searches, and examinations of electronic devices. The ACLU claims that it received no records from TSA in response, and their new lawsuit, filed on March 12, is intended to compel the TSA to fully respond to that request.
As of yet, the TSA has not commented on this lawsuit, and it is unclear to what extent these electronic device searches are occurring. Travelers flying domestically with sensitive data should, however, be prepared for the possibility that their electronic devices could be searched.