US Immigration: What happens to data downloaded by border agents?

British Columbia residents who travel across the border into the United States might not realize that border control officials could search their phones and laptops. Under the U.S. Immigration laws, it is perfectly legal to carry out such searches. The Border Doctrine even allows agents to download the data from the electronic devices of travellers and then scan the downloaded data for breaches of national security.

Border agents need no reasonable suspicion, probable cause or even a warrant to carry out manual searches on the phones and laptops of people who enter the U.S. If they then find reasons to suspect incriminating or security threatening data to exist on a phone, they are entitled to transfer the data onto a storage device for further scrutiny. But what happens to that data once it turns out to be non-threatening to national security?

A report by Customs and Border Protection indicates that the U.S. government's policy to erase data found to be legal has not been implemented in an alarming number of cases. Border agents compromised the security of individuals by noncompliance with the policy to erase the data, exposing them to disclosure of their personal data in the event of the theft of the devices containing the downloaded data. The report also revealed the drastic increase in warrantless data searches from approximately 5,000 in 2015 to 29,000 in 2017.

British Columbia residents who plan to travel across the border might have some questions about what to expect as they cross the border. An experienced lawyer in Vancouver who deals primarily with U.S. immigration issues can provide the answers. He or she can also ensure that all the necessary documentation is ready and explain how the clients can protect their privacy and avoid having their rights violated.

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