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Forced Search & Seizures at US Border is Abuse of Constitution – Rebecca Jeschke EFF

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Soon after Trump has banned the entry of people, US border agents have increased inquiring citizens about their personal credentials. The US citizens, permanent residents, and visa holders are compelled to show their personal information on their electronic devices.

US citizens are complaining about, ‘give in your device or go back’ attitude of border agents and also the legality of such action is under question. However, US laws regarding border prohibits searching of people’s credentials without any authentic cause.

Experts are now suggesting people visiting US to be vigilant, calm, and careful and to follow the measures to secure their privacy at US border. Also, the people who are planning to travel America should know; how to protect their browsing history, as agents are also checking the sites they visit.

To gain insights and learn about the issue we conducted and interview with Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director and Digital Rights Analyst, EFF. EFF is the organization working for civil liberties in the digital world and they are also operative in solving the problems people are facing on US border regarding their privacy concerns.

BE ENCRYPTED: Tell us something about yourself:

I’ve worked at EFF for 12 years, fighting for privacy, free speech, and innovation online and in all of our digital devices.

BE ENCRYPTED: There has been the recent wave of complaints from people visiting U.S regarding unfair checking of their electronic devices. Could it be the start of turmoil and unrest in the country?

REBECCA: It’s clear that people do not like the increased, invasive searches at the border. I think people will continue to protest unfair searches and seizures.

BE ENCRYPTED: People today store their most intimate information on their electronic devices, reflecting their thoughts, explorations, activities, and associations. Is it correct to interfere with their privacy without any authentic reason?

REBECCA: No, it’s not fair or just to have a search at the border for no reason. We think that border agents should have a warrant before they search. That means they have to have probable cause that person committed a crime, and the judge has to agree. That’s not what’s happening now.

EFF has also mentioned in their report that, although the border agents as compared to people and interior police have more powers and people visiting the country have less privacy. But the border is not a  place without any constitutional restrictions. The powers of border agents are limited through First Amendment (freedom of speech, association, press, and religion), the Fourth Amendment (freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures), the Fifth Amendment (freedom from compelled self-incrimination), and the Fourteenth Amendment (freedom from discrimination).

BE ENCRYPTED: Many people travel for their business purposes or certain official matters. However, people in many professions, such as lawyers and journalists, have a heightened need to keep their electronic information confidential. So, what implications it could have as their information is confidential, especially in investigative journalism?

REBECCA: It’s definitely hard for journalists, lawyers, and others who are traveling right now. Journalists often have the information they have to keep secret in order to protect the personal safety of sources. Lawyers have privileged conversations with their clients every day, and those need to stay confidential for fairness reasons. You can follow the tips on how to keep your data safe here:


BE ENCRYPTED: Under both the First and Fourth Amendments, the indiscriminate search of Americans’ electronic devices at the border is unlawful and they need to have probable cause for carrying such actions. In what position you see the legality of this initiative taken by the U.S Government?

REBECCA: We hope that Congress makes it clear that a warrant is necessary for border searches.

She pointed out to her previous answers regarding probable cause. What it means that a bill was introduced this month in Congress that would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection or other government agents to obtain a probable cause warrant before searching the digital devices of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents at the border.

But CBP unreasonably argues that the privacy interest travelers have in digital devices is no different than that of luggage or other physical items travelers may bring with them across the border, thus CBP applies to digital devices the traditional “border search exception” to the Fourth Amendment, which permits warrant less and unsuspicious “routine” border searches.

Here is a bill that could help: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/04/border-search-bill-would-rein-cbp

BE ENCRYPTED: If you have traveled to certain countries connected to terrorism, drug trafficking, or sex tourism, it may draw additional scrutiny from border agents, said the U.S government. Would you consider it as the true cause of extreme vetting or it’s just a statement to justify their policies?

REBECCA: If the government gets a warrant based on probable cause, then they should be able to search digital devices. For the government’s reasons why they disagree with this, you’ll have to ask them!

BE ENCRYPTED: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says the U.S. may want improved vetting procedures for travelers from as many as 14 countries. In your opinion what will be the impacts of this discriminating behavior from certain countries.

REBECCA: We’d have to see the specific vetting procedures before we could see what the impact is. But I think there have already been many news stories about decreased travel to the U.S. in the wake of the executive order and other travel issues.

BE ENCRYPTED: After, U.S. President Donald Trump had signed the first travel ban executive order on Jan. 20, 2017. Initial contacts between Trump and leaders of Australia, Germany, Mexico, and China didn’t go well, resulting in negative publicity in countries that send lots of travelers to America. Do you think this movement by U.S government is affecting their global relations?

REBECCA: I certainly would think twice about going to nations that would potentially confiscate my computer and my phone – I would not be surprised if many other people felt the same way.

BE ENCRYPTED: How much positive you are that EFF, other civil liberties, and the law will be successful in stopping such intrusive practices on the order of Trump Administration?

REBECCA: We are doing our best! And we’ll keep working until we win.

BE ENCRYPTED: What are the measures EFF is taking in such a situation?

REBECCA: She pointed out towards the reports, blogs, guides, information papers etc which show that EFF in this regard, is working hard to eliminate the problems faced by the people. The guides to secure people’s privacy are been given so that anyone before visiting the US could follow those measures.

The EFF organization is also protesting against this unlawful act by speaking against such practices in front of the court.

We’ve done a lot of education, like our white paper and our information sheets: https://www.eff.org/wp/digital-privacy-us-border-2017,



We’ve also filed court briefs:


And we support bills for reform:


BE ENCRYPTED: What’s your suggestion to the people who are planning to travel U.S, about the measures they should follow to secure their privacy?

REBECCA: See the white paper


and the one-pager


Everyone’s situation is different so everyone will need to do different things!

In these papers, the EFF organization has published a lengthy report to guide people about the security measures they should follow at U.S border. However, keeping in view about the situation of people, they have suggested different ways for the people in different condition.

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Zehra Ali is a Tech Reporter and Journalist. She has done her Masters in Mass Communication. Topics related to cybersecurity, IoT, AI, Big Data and other privacy matters are extensively covered by her on various platforms. You can follow her on twitter.

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