If a traveler’s phone, tablet or computer is ever searched at an airport, US border authorities could add data from their device to a massive database that can be accessed by thousands of government officials. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leaders admitted to lawmakers at a briefing that their officials are adding information to a database of up to 10,000 devices each year, washington post reports.
Additionally, 2,700 CBP officers can access the database without a warrant and without having to record the purpose of their search. These details were revealed in a letter. Senator Ron Wyden wrote to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, where the lawmaker also said that CBP keeps any information it takes from people’s devices for 15 years.
In the letter, Wyden urged the commissioner to update CBP practices so device searches at borders focus on suspected criminals and security threats instead of allowing “indiscriminate review of the private records of Americans without suspicion of a crime.” “. Wyden said CBP takes sensitive information from people’s devices, including text messages, call logs, contact lists, and even photos and other private information in some cases.
While law enforcement agencies generally must obtain a court order if they want to access the contents of a phone or any other electronic device, border authorities are exempt from having to do the same. Wyden also pointed out that registered travelers at airports, seaports and border crossings are not informed of their rights before their devices are registered. And if they refuse to unlock their electronic devices, authorities could confiscate them and keep them for five days.
What The charge Notes, a CBP official previously went on record that the agency’s directive gives its officers the authority to scroll through any traveler’s device in a “basic search.” If they find any “reasonable suspicion” that a traveler is breaking the law or doing something that poses a threat to national security, they can conduct a more advanced search. That’s when they can connect the traveler’s phone, tablet or PC to a device that copies their information, which is then stored in the Automated Wayfinding System database.
CBP Field Operations Director Aaron Bowker told the publication that the agency only copies people’s data when it’s “absolutely necessary.” However, Bowker did not deny that agency officials can access the database; he even said the number was higher than what CBP officials told Wyden. Five percent of CBP’s 60,000 employees have access to the database, he said, which translates to 3,000 officers and not 2,700.
Wyden wrote in his letter:
“Innocent Americans should not be tricked into unlocking their phones and laptops. CBP should not dump the data obtained through thousands of warrantless phone searches into a central database, retain the data for fifteen years, and allow that thousands of DHS employees search the personal data of Americans. data whenever they want.
Two years ago, the Senator also called for an investigation into CBP’s use of commercially available location data to track people’s phones without a warrant. CBP had admitted at the time that it spent $500,000 to access a commercial database that contained “location data pulled from apps on the mobile phones of millions of Americans.”
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