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Report: Homeland Security Not Deleting Phone Data

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 14, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Question: Who in the world would want to go back through security?

Answer: Everyone who had their electronic devices scanned at the border.

Why? Because the Department of Homeland Security apparently hangs on to your electronic data, and you may want them to delete those embarrassing photos.

Their Bad

According to an internal report, Homeland Security does not always delete data seized during border searches of electronic devices. The DHS inspector general said investigators discovered data copied from devices "had not been deleted after the searches were completed."

The investigators checked an "unspecified number of drives" retained by the Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations at five ports of entry around the country. According to ArsTechnica, that included at least 29,000 "inbound travelers" in 2017.

"Based on our physical inspection, as well as the lack of a written policy, it appears OFO has not universally implemented the requirement to delete copied information, increasing the risk of unauthorized disclosure of travelers' data should thumb drives be lost or stolen," the inspector general's office reported.

That means travelers' contacts, phone numbers, email, photos and other electronically stored data is at risk. It includes any information stored on phones, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices.

Your Bad

Apparently, there isn't much you can do about it. Short of falling off the grid, everything is electronically connected these days.

And the law has insulated border searches. The so-called "border doctrine" says warrants generally aren't required.

However, some border searches are still an issue. A federal judge recently said plaintiffs may sue for warrantless searches of cell phones and laptops.

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