https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11216337/CBP-sparks-privacy-fears-revealed-2-700-officers-WARRANTLESS-access-data.html

CBP sparks privacy fears after it’s revealed that 2,700 of its officers have warrantless access to travelers’ confiscated phones

  • The leader of the Customs and Border Protection told congressional staff that the massive database can be accessed by 2,700 CBP officers without a warrant
  • Phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic devices are seized by the CBP as part of a screening process to enter the US
  • But the new revelations have sparked fresh concerns that personal data is being taken without consent 
  • Details of the database were revealed on Thursday in a letter from Senator Ron Wyden to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus 

Thousands of US government officials have unlimited access to as many as 10,000 devices which are seized from travelers moving across the country.  

Electronic devices such as cellphones, iPads and laptops taken from those going through airports, seaports and border crossings are being mined for data. 

The leader of the Customs and Border Protection told congressional staff that the massive database can be accessed by 2,700 CBP officers without a warrant.

During a briefing, which took place in the summer, officials also said that the data is maintained for 15 years.

It has raised alarms in Congress about what the government is using the information or, with many of the devices taken from people not suspected of any criminal activity.

Details of the database were revealed on Thursday in a letter from Senator Ron Wyden to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

He criticised the agency for ‘allowing indiscriminate rifling through Americans’ private records’ and called for stronger privacy protections.

CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus recieved a letter blasting the department after it was revealed that thosuands of officers have access to the database

During a briefing, which took place in the summer, officials said the massive database can be accessed by 2,700 CBP officers without a warrant

During a briefing, which took place in the summer, officials said the massive database can be accessed by 2,700 CBP officers without a warrant

Electronic devices such as cellphones, iPads and laptops taken from those going through airports, seaports and border crossings are being mined for data by the CBP

Electronic devices such as cellphones, iPads and laptops taken from those going through airports, seaports and border crossings are being mined for data by the CBP

Senator Paul and Wyden introduced a bill last year which required border officials to get a warrant before searching a device.

Currently the CBP have the authority to conduct a ‘basic search’, which includes looking and scrolling through the device.

Anyone who refuses to unlock their phone for the process can have it confiscated for up to five days.

The controversial practice has always been defended by the CBP, though many feel that inspecting the phones is a step too far.

In their defence of the decision to keep inspecting the electronic devices, the CBP consider it a low impact way to pursues possible security threats.

The CBP say that it can determine someone’s ‘intentions upon entry’ into the US, even if the devices don’t flag up any concerning information.

Some lawmakers and privacy advocates are warning that the searchable database with no public oversight could be an infringement against US Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Federal investigators are increasingly using technology that many Americans do not understand or consent to.

Currently the CBP have the authority to conduct a ‘basic search’, which includes looking and scrolling through the device which Sen Wyden, pictured, does not agree with

Currently the CBP have the authority to conduct a ‘basic search’, which includes looking and scrolling through the device which Sen Wyden, pictured, does not agree with

Currently the CBP have the authority to conduct a ‘basic search’, which includes looking and scrolling through the devices

Currently the CBP have the authority to conduct a ‘basic search’, which includes looking and scrolling through the devices

FBI agents and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement staff have previously run facial recognition on searches of millions of Americans drivers licence photos.

They are understood to have tapped into private databases of finance and utility records to learn here they live and use license plate reader information to access an up-to-date location.

CBP spokesman Lawrence Payne said in a statement to the Washington Post that the agency conducts ‘border searches of electronic devices in accordance with statutory and regulatory authorities.

He added that they have imposed rules to ensure the searches are ‘exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust.’

The database, called the Automated Targeting System, they claim is used to ‘further review, analyze, and assess information CBP obtained from electronic devices associated with individuals who are of a significant law enforcement, counterterrorism or national security concern’.

Officials would not confirm how many American’s phone records are currently in the database, how many searches have ben run or how long the practice has been going on for.

In 2018 the CBP issued a directive saying that officers should only retain information that related to immigration, customs or ‘other enforcement matters’.

The only exception is if they have probable cause that could justify saving more of the phones’ contents.

But in the briefing this summer CBP officials revealed that the default setting for some searches had been to download and retain contact lists, call logs and messages.

Senator Paul, pictured, and Wyden introduced a bill last year which required border officials to get a warrant before searching a device

Senator Paul, pictured, and Wyden introduced a bill last year which required border officials to get a warrant before searching a device

Senator Ron Wyden has slammed he agency for ‘allowing indiscriminate rifling through Americans’ private records’ and called for stronger privacy protections

Senator Ron Wyden has slammed he agency for ‘allowing indiscriminate rifling through Americans’ private records’ and called for stronger privacy protections

Aaron Bowker, CBP’s director of office of field operations claimed that the data is retained in a small fraction of searches and only when ‘absolutely necessary.’ 

He also denied that 2,700 DHS officials have access to the data, saying it is around 5 per cent of their operational workforce – meaning 3,000 are given access. 

Bowker added that those who can access the information are trained, audited and supervised – defending the level of data access as ‘appropriate’ for the size of the task. 

No other governmetn agendy has direct access to the data according to the CBP, but they can request the information on a case-by case basis.  

Data revealed by the CBP shows that they conducted roughly 37,000 searches of travelers devices in the year before October 2021.

It is not clear how many of those devices had their contents uploaded to the database for long-term review.

Law enforcement agencies must show probably cause and persuade a judge to approve a search warrant before accessing any devices. 

But border authorities are granted an exception which allows them to search the electronics withoutl a warrant or suspicion of crime. 

Officials would not confirm how many American’s phone records are currently in the database, how many searches have ben run or how long the practice has been going on for

Officials would not confirm how many American’s phone records are currently in the database, how many searches have ben run or how long the practice has been going on for

Data is stored in the Automated Targeting System database after a device is subjected to an ‘advanced search’.

This means that officers have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the traveller is breaking the law or poses a threat to national security and the information can be saved.

Officers are also not required to record the purpose of their searches, but the CBP say they are all traced for a later audit.

While CBP officials have to give travelers a printed document saying that searches are ‘mandatory’ it does not state that the information can be retained for 15 years.

Some travelers are not handed the document until they’ve handed their phones, which means they may not fully understand their rights.

It comes after the National Security Agency program, which was first revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013, was shut down in 2019.

The NSA once captured millions of Americans phone records as part of a surveillance initiative targeting suspected terrorists, but the system exposed the records of millions of people not suspected of any crime.

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