Bor­der guards bol­ster ef­forts in de­vice searches

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

U.S. bor­der of­fi­cials seized and searched nearly 15,000 com­put­ers, phones and tablets over the last six months as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment stepped up its trav­eler surveil­lance, say­ing it’s re­spond­ing to the latest pub­lic safety threats.

While only a tiny frac­tion of trav­el­ers face the in­tru­sive scru­tiny — less than a hun­dredth of one per­cent — the num­ber has been steadily grow­ing.

In 2015, U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP) seized elec­tronic de­vices at a rate of about 23 a day. By this year, it was seiz­ing them at a rate of 82 per day.

The searches in­clude both U.S. cit­i­zens and le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents re­turn­ing to their homes from trips abroad, as well as vis­i­tors and new im­mi­grants ar­riv­ing for the first time.

“The in­crease of elec­tronic de­vice searches is driven by CBP’s mis­sion to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple and en­force the na­tion’s laws in this dig­i­tal age,” the agency said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the new fig­ures.

“CBP has adapted and ad­justed its ac­tions to align with cur­rent threat in­for­ma­tion. CBP bor­der searches of elec­tronic de­vices have re­sulted in ev­i­dence help­ful in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity, child pornog­ra­phy, vi­o­la­tions of ex­port con­trols, in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights vi­o­la­tions, and visa fraud,” the agency said.

Of­fi­cials have been un­able to say, how­ever, how many of the searches in­volved po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity, nor could of­fi­cials say what per­cent­age of those be­ing sub­ject to the search were U.S. cit­i­zens.

Usu­ally the seizure is a quick check, but CBP also claims the power to hold onto the item for a more thor­ough foren­sic search.

Civil lib­er­ties groups say CBP is tread­ing on dan­ger­ous ground, and pre­dicted an in­crease in court chal­lenges.

All told, CBP searched some 14,993 elec­tronic de­vices be­tween Oct. 1 and March 31. That’s far higher than the 8,383 searched dur­ing the same pe­riod a year ear­lier, and about equal to the whole level of searches done in all 12 months of fis­cal year 2015.

The 2015 and 2016 num­bers are up­dates to what CBP re­leased just a cou­ple of months ago. The agency said the pre­vi­ously re­leased num­bers were wrong, blam­ing “an anom­aly” in the track­ing sys­tem that at­tached the wrong date to some searches, boost­ing the 2016 num­ber be­yond what it should have been.

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