Alternet - According to data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), searches of mobile phones by border agents grew from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to 25,000 in 2016 (DHS told the Guardian that there was an anomaly in the 2016 data, but did not reveal how that changes these figures). Anecdotal evidence indicates that searches have risen further in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.
Border agents carry out these invasive searches without any warrant or even suspicion, going through text messages, social media accounts and photos, while asking the owner about the people they are interacting with, their religious affiliations and travel patterns.
Experts credit the rise in searches to the increase in technical capacity at the border.
“They are building capacity to routinely search as many devices as possible,” said Alex Abdo, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
Christina Sinha, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, added: “It’s a ridiculous situation. The entire thing is terrible. All it’s doing is greatly exacerbating the racial profiling problem at the border.” She provides legal representation for those unjustly affected by sweeping national security policies, many of whom are Muslims.
“People are incredibly vulnerable at the border,” she said. “People are coming off 20-hour flights, completely jet-lagged and stuck in this limbo land of the border and there’s an armed agent in front of you preventing you from coming into the country.”
In addition to going through people’s smartphones in person, US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) can also confiscate devices for a further forensic examination. In this case agents can make full copies of all of the data on the phone, which can be shared with other government agencies. DHS has published test results from dozens of tools it can use to extract data from phones.
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