Social media and electronic device searches at U.S. border

Travelers must continue to be vigilant when going through customs at the U.S. border to prevent unexpected entry denials. In addition to luggage searches and interviews, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) relies on electronic devices searches to deny travelers entry.  According to CBP, an electronic device is considered to be any device that may contain information in an electronic or digital form, including computers, tablets, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones, cameras, music, media players, and other communication devices.

Over the summer, the U.S. Department of State took steps to incorporate a social media platform review in their adjudication process, but generally that review only considers images and video posted on the applicant’s own public social media pages. CBP is increasingly denying entry to foreign nationals for photos, messages, images, or videos sent by friends or family on sites like Facebook and Instagram or encrypted messaging apps like WeChat, Signal, or even emails.

Both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike have a reduced expectation of privacy at the border, providing for unwarranted searches and limited access to legal counsel. In FY17, CBP conducted 30,200 border searches, both inbound and outbound, of electronic devices.

Travelers should be mindful of their decreased privacy at the border, and take necessary precautions to review anything on social media, in private messaging applications, or in email, which may inadvertently cause confusion or unnecessary suspicion regarding criminal activity or inadmissibility when going through customs into the U.S.