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U.S. immigration officers have broad authority to search travelers’ luggage and belongings when they enter the United States. That authority extends to cellphones, laptop computers, and tablets. Custom officials treat these electronic devices similar to luggage, carry-on bags, and purses – they are all subject to a search when the owner attempts to enter the country through any point of entry.

Digital searches of this type can be very alarming since we keep so much personal information on our phones, computers, and devices these days. Once an agent has your phone or device in hand, he or she can go through text messages, voicemails, social media apps, photos, and any other apps or content you have stored on your phone.

Both Citizens And Non-Citizens Are Subject To Searches

It does not matter if you are a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, a visitor, or a visa holder – anyone can be asked to provide their electronic devices and passwords or access codes at the U.S. border.

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you cannot be prevented from entering the country, even if you deny the request. However, officials may confiscate your phone and backup the data before returning it to you. They can also make entry difficult such as by holding you for questioning or delaying your entry.

If you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and you deny officials access to your phone, you most likely will be refused entry to the United States.

3 Tips To Protect Your Digital Privacy From Customs Officials

If traveling without your phone or device is not possible, the next best option is to remove as much personal information as possible from the phone. Here are three ways to do so:

  • Remove any private or confidential information and upload it to a cloud-based service such as Google, iCloud, or Dropbox.
  • Log out of all social media apps AND delete the apps from your phone. You can reinstall them after you’ve been allowed in the country.
  • Disable TouchID and facial recognition features and use a 4-6 digit PIN instead.

Contact An Immigration Attorney With Questions

If you have questions about entering the U.S., obtaining a visa, applying for citizenship, or traveling to and from the United States as a non-citizen, contact The Law Offices of Gail Seeram. We offer free-in-office consultations in Orlando or Kissimmee. We also offer online or phone consultations and chat sessions.

Call or text our Orlando immigration law office at 407-292-7730 to arrange a consultation.