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A few months ago a Palestinian guy was seized his phone and then denied entry to the US because an agent saw anti-US propaganda posts shared by his friends on FB, so from this stance one should log out from any account he rebukes or makes fun of the US with, since US officials may take a joke or a critique about their country very seriously. But I wonder whether US officials can simply check manually a traveler's phone or also go further and used advanced IT techniques? Is it something that may likely happen or is it a privacy violation?

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    Why do you think you may be selected for any sort of secondary screening that would expose your phone to a close inspection? And it's not a privacy violation if the CBP is allowed to do it.
    – Peter M
    Feb 25, 2020 at 16:32
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    Just out of curiosity, I've never been in the US, and I was wondering whether they resort to these practices as well.
    – us er
    Feb 25, 2020 at 18:27
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    I mean, do they decide it randomly? "Mmm I don't like your face so". Unless one is found with narcotics or pieces of dead animal, that's a thing, but how can't it be privacy violation for a simple traveler who has nothing? On which basis do they choose that?
    – us er
    Feb 25, 2020 at 18:30
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    "denied entry to the US because an agent saw anti-US propaganda posts shared by his friends on FB" - do you have a reliable source for this, or is it only hearsay?
    – vsz
    Feb 26, 2020 at 6:24
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    @user That's not going to help future people much. Searching myself only leads me back to this page, with no other results. If you're referring to a specific instance, and it's relevant, add a link to your question. Or post it in the comments, and someone'll probably edit it into the question eventually.
    – bobsburner
    Feb 26, 2020 at 10:28

2 Answers 2

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The likelihood is extremely low unless you have have special circumstances that trigger advanced interest.

In 2018 there were about 33000 phone and laptop searches and there are about 80 million visitors. The statistical likelihood would be around 0.0004 .

**UPDATE based on comments **

Sources: Number of US visitors: https://uk.usembassy.gov/international-visitors-to-u-s-on-the-rise-infographic/

Number of searches: I can't find the original source quickly but here is a Washington Post article that quotes the 2017 numbers at 30,000 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-customs-agents-are-searching-more-cellphones--including-those-belonging-to-americans/2018/01/05/0a236202-f247-11e7-b3bf-ab90a706e175_story.html

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    And that's a "search". A detailed/forensic search going as far as checking for deleted files or whatnot is probably even less likely.
    – jcaron
    Feb 25, 2020 at 17:23
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    Americans can get their devices searched too. Feb 26, 2020 at 2:54
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    What is your source for those numbers?
    – MJ713
    Feb 26, 2020 at 4:09
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    A source would really help here — not so much for credibility (there’s no particular reason to doubt those numbers) but for details of what they’re counting: what’s their criterion for what counts as a “search”, and so on.
    – PLL
    Feb 26, 2020 at 8:38
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    This really needs a source, especially when the comment asking for it has more upvotes than the question itself. Feb 26, 2020 at 15:30
3

Yes, they can and will ask you to log into your phone, and search your phone for "obvious stuff" - emails, texts, chats, Facebook, etc. Generally, what they're looking for is evidence of one of the big four:

  • planning to overstay your visa
  • planning to seek employment without a visa for that
  • planning to fall back onto social services (the dole)
  • planning to commit crime or terror

But if they find something else ... well, gotcha.

They may also plug your phone into an automated process that scans your files for keywords or illegal/obscene files (typically by image or hash comparisons).

Keep in mind that obscenity-wise, something legal in both nations may be illegal to take across the border! (this, page 7, prohibiting perfectly normal mainstream stuff like vanilla hetsex, Fifty Shades of Grey, and contortionists of all things).

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    How frequently does this happen? The other answer suggests it doesn't happen much at all. Unless your answer and theirs are defining "search" differently.
    – MJ713
    Feb 26, 2020 at 4:11
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    "Keep in mind that obscenity-wise, something legal in both nations may be illegal to take across the border" Really? Got a citation for this? Feb 26, 2020 at 5:05
  • @lambshaanxy I don't think a citation is needed to argue that porn featuring Putin and Trump would be fine in a country like Belgium but illegal (or extremely undesired) in Russia. Feb 26, 2020 at 15:32
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    Wouldn't that be very dependent on who is shown on top? ;) Feb 26, 2020 at 15:47
  • @Parrotmaster But that would be illegal in one country and illegal to take across the border. What's something legal in both countries but illegal to bring across the border? Bitcoin keys (because of money laundering)?
    – user253751
    Feb 26, 2020 at 16:14

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