US border agents inspected a record number of travelers’ electronic devises last year, up by 60%.
US Customs and Border Protection said 30,200 phones and other electronic devices were checked, in the fiscal year to September 2017, up from 19,051 in 2016.
Amid growing concern over the practice by privacy advocates, the agency maintains it is just a tiny percentage – only 0.007% of more than 397 million people arriving into the country at airports and border crossings.
“In this digital age, border searches of electronic devices are essential to enforcing the law at the US border and to protecting the American people,” said the CBP’s deputy executive assistant commissioner John Wagner.
Privacy groups say searches of devices should not be conducted without probable cause or a warrant.
To combat some disquiet over privacy violations, the CBP has just updated rules which permits agents to inspect data physically on a device and not stored remotely via cloud storage.
Agents are now required to ask all owners to turn off a network connection before the inspection is made.
The directive says all passwords provided by customers to agents must be destroyed immediately after a search.
Hugh Handeyside, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project called it a ‘step in the right direction’ but ‘officers can still conduct what amounts to a digital strip search of passengers’ without a warrant.
The group recently filed a lawsuit against the DHS on behalf of travelers who had devices inspected at border points.