I am considering to travel out of the US. However, being a brown person, I am concerned about the recent actions of the US Customs and Border Protection. I strongly believe in digital privacy and 0% willing to share my data with anybody else. I keep my data encrypted. However, it looks like that the constitutional rights don't work in front of the CBP and they may order a traveler to give away the key. What are the actions they may take against me if I don't comply with their orders while returning back to the US?

I want to know about the consequences of not complying with the CBP orders with respect to this circumstance. I am not looking for the best practices to avoid a confrontation which has been answered by this question.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Mar 29, 2017 at 16:21

2 Answers 2


Shamelessly converting a comment into an answer, according to the EFF there are consequences for US citizens denying encription keys to CBP. Whilst US citizens cannot be denied admission into the US, their devices can be seized:

At the U.S. border. Agents may ask travelers to unlock their devices, provide their device passwords, or disclose their social media information. This presents a no-win dilemma. If a traveler complies, then the agents can scrutinize and copy their sensitive digital information. If a traveler declines, then the agents can seize their devices, subject the traveler to additional questioning and detention, and otherwise escalate the encounter.

Border agents cannot deny a U.S. citizen admission to the country. However, if a foreign visitor declines, an agent may deny them entry. If a lawful permanent resident declines, agents may raise complicated questions about their continued status as a resident.

The possibility of having your devices seized are further confirmed by this interview released on The Register

When it comes to data security, American citizens also have additional rights, although there are some important caveats.

"US citizens can't be compelled to turn over passwords," Nathan Wessler, staff attorney at the ACLU, told The Reg. "But border agents may make your life much more difficult. It does have the right to seize electronic devices and send them off to a forensics lab for tests that could take weeks or months."

Such laboratories are typically not in the airport building, and devices that are taken could be sent anywhere in the US. You can get them back – if you're willing to pay for delivery charges; There's no time limit on Uncle Sam holding them; and you're dependent on an overworked techie getting around to checking them out.

  • 2
    Let me add: if law enforcement manages to convince a court that the presence of illegal (like child porn) material on your device is a a "foregone conclusion" then you can be jailed indefinitely until you turn over the key. Relevant case.
    – user4188
    Mar 29, 2017 at 16:25

What are the consequences of a US citizen denying encryption key to the CBP?

Assuming you are not already the subject of an Investigation:

  • The device will be seized for further inspection.
  • You will be detained, not arrested, and questioned.
  • You may be questioned at a later date.
  • If the Officers have sufficient reason to believe you are engaged in criminal activity, you may become the subject of a full Investigation.

There are only two points to keep in mind:

  1. Everything is subject to inspection. Everything. To clarity, everything.
  2. There is nothing you can say or do to prevent inspection if an Officer decides to inspect your belongings. Nothing. To clarify, nothing.

Before any comments:

  • Save Diplomatic or Law Enforcement Credentials, there are no exceptions to this.
  • You cannot be required to provide your Password, but the device will definitely be seized.
  • The nature of any legal material on the device is completely irrelevant.
  • If you are the subject of valid Warrant, you may be admitted, then arrested. At that point, everything you are carrying will become potential evidence.
  • Downvote totally unwarranted, unhelpful and wrong.
    – DTRT
    Mar 29, 2017 at 21:38

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