United States: Immigration Fact Or Fiction For The U.S. Employer: CBP Searching Electronic Devices – A New Thing?

There has been heightened interest and concern regarding the potential for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to search laptops and smart phones at the port of entry, due to the mention of such searches in one of President Trump's recent Executive Orders. But, the search of these devices is not new. In fact, this was started in 2008 and is a response to the increasing number of travelers carrying such devices. On March 16, 2017, CBP published an update reiterating their broad and long-held search authority on their website. (See: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/cbp-search-authority).

Can U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) search a U.S. citizen's personal electronic devices?

FACT: Yes, CBP has broad authority to search all items arriving to the United States. Specifically, 19 C.F.R. 162.6 states that, “All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer.” Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all persons entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, are subject to examination and search by CBP officers. (See: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/cbp-search-authority).

This authority is not new and has been used since 2008. CBP is able to review everything brought into the United States to determine whether the individual is eligible for admission to the United States and the purpose of the entry. This includes cell phones and laptops. CBP officers may search these devices on purely a "reasonable" suspicion.

CBP only selects suspicious applicants for admission for secondary inspection.

FALSE: Most individuals pass through the CBP inspection without fanfare. But, CBP officers have discretion to refer travelers for further examination. Although CBP does use information from various systems and specific techniques for selecting passengers for targeted examinations, they also use completely random referrals for a percentage of travelers.

Does CBP know who is arriving in the United States in advance?

FACT: Yes, CBP receives information for air travelers prior to their arrival to the United States. Air carriers transmit passenger information to CBP using the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS). CBP also receives information from the Interagency Border Inspection System) to target travelers for further inspection. IBIS is used by more than 20 federal agencies, including the FBI, IRS, Coast Guard, FAA, Secret Service, and the Department of State to share information. IBIS provides the law enforcement community with access to computer-based enforcement files of common interest, including access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and all 50 states via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems. Access to IBIS is available to computer terminals at air, land and sea ports.

Must I provide passwords to electronic devices and social media accounts?

FACT: Most likely yes. At the port of entry many of your civil protections do not apply. Even less so, for travelers who are not U.S. citizens of Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders). As such, you should be prepared to be cooperative and hand over electronic devices to the CBP officer for inspection. This includes providing passwords. If a US citizen or green card holder refuses to provide passwords, their electronic devices may be confiscated for an undetermined period of time – but they will be admitted to the U.S. If a foreign national fails to provide passwords, they may be prevented from entering the U.S. altogether.

Can CBP retain my electronic devices?

FACT: Yes, electronic devices including laptops may be retained temporarily by CBP for further inspection. If it is retain, CBP will provide you with Form 6051-D, which is a receipt and a CBP Official who will be the "case officer." There is no set time period for CBP to complete the inspection. In some cases, electronics may be held for several weeks. The only requirement is that CBP hold the property for "a reasonable time." Since that is vague and varies based on circumstances, you should be prepared to be without your property for several days or weeks. CBP will ship the device back to you.

We Summarize Some Recommendations that are being made in the Media and by Companies Due to the Potential for Searches at the Port of Entry:

Because modern life includes storing a great deal of information on our computers and cell phones, travelers can take a few simple steps to protect their information. Notably, this is particularly relevant for business travelers who have a duty to protect their company and client information.

  • Travel only with necessary devices and data. If you do not need a device – leave it at home.
  • Prepare devices for Travel. In cases where a device is needed during travel, there are steps that can be taken to protect your data. Much of the information we use today is not actually stored on our device – but in a cloud. Therefore, "clean" you device prior to travel and remove any information that is not needed for the trip. The cloud will continue to store important information. Meanwhile, having limited information on your device should limit the time CBP needs to spend to inspect it, reducing the risk of CBP retaining it for an extended search.
  • Take a "loaner." For business travel, many companies or firms can offer a loaner laptop. IT departments regularly erase information from these computers since they are shared within the organization. This loaner can hold only the information needed for the trip.
  • Take a "Memory Stick." Although memory sticks may seem a bit old fashioned these days, this can be to your advantage when getting through CBP inspections. Is CBP paying that much attention to memory sticks these days, when everyone is traveling with personal devices? Probably not. While CBP is focused on your cell phone with personal data; your company or client's information on the memory stick may simply go unnoticed. The memory stick is light and easy to travel with, and it shouldn't take CBP long to review the information should they choose to inspect it.

Lastly, international travelers should be aware that foreign governments are certain to reciprocate. Specifically, U.S. citizens traveling internationally will be subjected to the same digital inspection at foreign ports of entry. Therefore, this is a trend that will not only "stick" it will grow. We will need to be prepared for these intrusions on both ends of an international trip. Therefore, it is even more vital that we prepare our electronic devices for travel, the same way we plan every other aspect of an international trip.

Immigration Fact or Fiction for the U.S. Employer: CBP Searching Electronic Devices – A New Thing?

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.