back to article US border cops search cloud accounts? Ha ha, nope, negative, no way, siree – Homeland Sec

Border searches of US citizens' mobile devices do not extend to data stored solely on remote servers, according to Kevin McAleenan, Acting Commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection Agency. McAleenan offered this clarification in a June 20, 2017 letter, obtained by NBC News this week, sent in response to an inquiry …

  1. frank ly Silver badge


    It seems like the safest thing to do would be to leave your 'real' phone (and laptop) at home and store everything in 'the cloud', then take a freshly wiped 'burner' phone and laptop through customs and immigration with you.

    I can't think of anyone I'd trust less with my various account identities and passwords than some government functionaries. The mind boggling thing is that they can't figure out that real terrorists and criminals already do this and have encrypted data archives in obscure cloud storage accounts.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sighs

      Isn't that what you are supposed to do?

      Anything like that I take through customs/border only have the basic OS on them and the phone has only my home number. Any thing else I want can be picked up from our servers - even books for my e-reader.

      As for going to the US I gave up on that 25 years ago after they messed me around at an airport - never again.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sighs

      Way better not to travel to the us. I only do because of family and friends..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sighs

        Who in their right mind would want to visit there ?

        Obviously the real purpose of that new Wall is to stop the inmates escaping.

        Ich bin ein Berliner.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Sighs

          "ein Berliner."

          Mmmmm...I'll have two and a mug of covefee please!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sighs

            "ein Berliner."

            Mmmmm...I'll have two and a mug of covfefe please!

            FTF... oh wait

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Sighs

      Get your burner phone after going through customs and immigration, otherwise the device you get back could have spyware installed.

    4. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Sighs

      Get a second-hand old-fashioned Nokia chocolate bar (great phones, BTW) or even new from Amazon, a cheap card, because you 're even more suspicious if you have no phone at all. If one is taken from your eye view at US Customs (only once), dispose of it.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Sighs

        We too take our holiday koney elsewhere. Not been to US since 2002 after being 'streamlined for extra security' every time.

        I imagine it would be much much worse now.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Smart phones...

        People seem to not understand that sim applications exist.

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: Smart phones...

          People seem to not understand that sim applications exist.

          'sim applications' - I have visions of digital people slathering on ointment for some reason...

    5. ruscook

      Re: Sighs

      Spot on frank ly I was just about to post the same thing.

  2. TDog

    Well once they've downloaded it

    nowt else

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Well once they've downloaded it

      Downloaded? Good idea. Have a laptop full of viruses and malware. Have fun plugging that USB in your PCs.

  3. KorndogDev

    I got no smartphone, I use no facebook

    Am I arrested?

    1. LaeMing Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: I got no smartphone, I use no facebook

      Yes. Crimes against our corporate owners.

  4. moiety

    I note this is only for US citizens. And maybe green card holders.

    1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

      I note this is only for US citizens. And maybe green card holders.

      There are two scenarios here. For US citizens, CBP may confiscate your device for a few days but allowed entry to the US.

      However, if you're not a US citizen then there's a chance that you will be deported.

      Not sure about people holding Diplomatic Passport if they are exempted or not (after the Devyani Khobragade incident).

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        You have zero rights if you are neither green card or citizen. Do as your told or be detained and possibly exported.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Turn phone off, stick in diplomatic bag, go through border, job done.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        diplos not exempt

        Senator for life Carlo Rubbia, (diplomatic passport holder, nobel prize-winner for physics in 1984, co-discoverer at CERN with Simon Van der Meer of the W, W+ & Z0 intermediate vector bosons, lecturer at a US college for one day a week) - was probably deported after a 'typical for Carlo' chat with CPB on attempted entry. This was around 1986, allegedly.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    That's more than weasel words. More like a polecat. And not semi house-trained either.

  6. TheElder

    I wonder what they would do regarding Medical Privacy? My laptop is full of people thinking. I am currently doing Brain Mapping at a university in Kanuckistan. I haven't been down that way in a long time. I do not really have a good reason to go there, especially the way things are happening now. Certain persons seem to need their brains remapped. Still, I am very curious what they would say If I refused to let them look inside.

    As for the phone issue a flip (dumb) phone is a good way to talk to other people. It seems to me that a telephone is meant to be used for talking to real people, not pretending to be a talking to a robot. A dumb phone is also very cheap. So is a tiny ram chip stuck in a coin pocket.


    tel·e·phone ˈteləˌfōn

    noun telephone

    a system that converts acoustic vibrations to electrical signals in order to transmit sound, typically voices, over a distance using wire or radio.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Still, I am very curious what they would say If I refused to let them look inside."

      Depending on your local data protection laws and whether the data is personally identifiable, I suspect you should probably not be taking it out of your country anyway. If it's not personally identifiable data and your local laws are ok about it, then I doubt it would matter if they saw it. On the other hand, they may think it's some sort of encrypted terrorist manual and arrest you anyway.

      1. LaeMing Silver badge

        Pictures of people with brains are definitely evidence of terrism against those without.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Make America Grate again.

    1. Updraft102 Silver badge

      Anyone reading this site knows how difficult it would be to find data that a person has taken even a little bit of effort to hide, particularly on a laptop (which typically has more storage than a phone or tablet, not to mention complete access to the file system). All the laptops, phones, tablets, MP3 players (if anyone still uses them), digital cameras, IoT devices, etc., of all the people coming through all the checkpoints at all the airports with flights going to the US in just one day would be more than an army of analysts could check in a year, unless they think that terrorists typically leave files named "terrorist attack info.doc" sitting on a Windows desktop or the equivalent. It's not just a needle in a haystack... it's an object that may or may not be a needle (if it even exists) in any one of millions of haystacks scattered across tens of thousands of farms somewhere in the world.

      If there is data secreted on a hard drive, a determined analyst may well be able to detect its presence, or at least suspect that seemingly random data somewhere might actually be hidden encrypted data, but finding such things isn't something that can be done within the context of a check at an airport with every device that comes through (with nearly every person in the line having at least one device, and possibly several).

      It seems like a more likely plan is to provide cover for those few incidents where a traveler is a known person of interest and the government agents want to have a chance to image the device's storage and have an excuse ready, like "you were randomly chosen" or "we do this for everyone." Or, even more cynically, it could just be part of an ongoing effort to condition people to accept the ever-increasing intrusion into their lives in the burgeoning Stasi-style surveillance state that the US (and probably every other industrialized country) is fast becoming. Your papers, please!

  8. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Trawl through phones - No

    Body parts - Yes, who's next for a cavity search, don't all rush up at once.

  9. JJKing Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Power crazed psychos.

    I must say that I am surprised the US Border cops aren't issued with jackboots that would match their demeanour. The ones in OZ were not too bad until they were issued SS type uniforms. It seems that clothes really do maketh the nazi. (Goodwin's Law evoked)

    1. h4rm0ny

      Re: Power crazed psychos.

      I am certain that uniforms influence behaviour of the wearer. Not only the fact of their presence which is trivial to demonstrate affects behaviour, but the style and colour of the uniform. Dress people up like Gestapo and both they and the people they interact with will treat them differently from if their uniform resembled a museum assistant.

      Ben Elton once suggested that we should make the police wear pink as it would help make things less confrontational and aggressive.

  10. TheElder

    Re: Power crazed psychos.

    Precisely. It was all something that was directly enabled by the incredibly successful 9/11 events. Then the corruption index went into full and continuous overtime asymptotic to infinity.

    I remember when I visited Europe before all that happened. I am a Pilot and was flying first class. The door was open to the cockpit (always like that terminology) so I asked if I could sit up front in the empty engineer's seat for a while. "Sure, come up front if you wish" was the answer. It was so cool to watch the aurora as we flew over the pole.

    Try that now and see just how far you get...

  11. Slx

    Could you really be bothered visiting the USA anymore? It's sounding increasingly little we're all assumed to be criminals and subjected to all sorts of ridiculous and intrusive nonsense.

    Land of the free ...?!

    Next time, I'll just go somewhere that's less of a police state like maybe China...

  12. Wensleydale Cheese

    Border agents threatened to "be dicks"

    Man: Border agents threatened to "be dicks" take my phone if I didn’t unlock it

    As he sat in a darkened corner of a neighborhood bar, Aaron Gach, an artist and lecturer at a local art college, told Ars about what happened to him in a February 2017 episode at San Francisco International Airport, where he agreed to unlock his iPhone and have it be searched by border agents rather than risk being detained and delayed further.

    "I thought, in the moment, that if I gave in and turned over my phone that maybe they were being honest and wouldn't take my other belongings," he said, sipping a Death and Taxes beer.

    He turned out to be right. After he unlocked his iPhone SE, agents took it out of sight for five to 10 minutes before giving it back and sending him on his way. Gach still has no idea why.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Border agents threatened to "be dicks"

      To download selfies/look for pron/take personal "intimate" picture messages etc.

      Examples of this are rife.

  13. GrapeBunch Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    Null promises.

    1. They lie. We know this.

    2. Based on that statement, they don't even need to lie. Will not search for data held only on remote servers? As we know, they copy Internet transmissions without limit. They have the data already, albeit in difficult-to-decrypt format. They can safely say whatever they want about data held only in the Cloud, because ¬∃ , within reasonable statistical approximation.

    I'm wondering if anybody goes to the USA without phone or laptop, and upon being queried, tells the nice agent that the purpose of the visit is to buy a phone and a laptop. The agent might like that. Or Not.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If they really want to look into the phone

    All you need is an app that requires their selfie and finger print to unlock. Fair game? You want my info, you give me your info.

  15. JaitcH

    Just pull the SIM and the memory chip!

    Pulling the SIM out, along with the memory chip, and securing in some personal space should fix these nosy characters.

    Carrying two cell handsets - a smart one less the above plus a 'burner' - and handing over the burner usually gets you past them with ease.

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