Can You Be Required to Turn Over Your Phone’s Password at the Border, and More

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Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Disclosing the phone password per se is no big deal. It can be changed to something else in seconds. Heck, I now lock and unlock my new Motorola DROID Z Force phone using my fingerprints. What can they do about that?

    I believe that the real issue is if the request to disclose the password is so that they can go in it and and roam around in search of whatever. That’s not even in a gray area. It would be illegal in America without a FISA court order…

  2. @DCS

    Yes, they can take your device into another room to search it if they want to. You don’t have as many rights when crossing the border.
    Depending on what they’re looking for, they may call your contacts (to suss out whether you intend to work in violation of a visa), or just dump everything on a forensic device.

    Stepping away from border crossings for a second- If your phone is locked up tight using a fingerprint or passcode and has the latest security updates there’s not a whole lot the police/other authorities can do without your co-operation, other than pressure you with detention. This is where the law is somewhat unsettled regarding 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination. Currently courts have held that you can be compelled to provide a fingerprint because it is not “testimonial evidence”. But a passcode, other the other hand – you can always say “I forgot.” This is why some security expects recommend using a strong passcode and disabling Touch ID. If in a jam with the police and you have Touch ID enabled on your iPhone- shut it off! It requires the passcode on reboot.

  3. @Red — touch ID also requires passcode fallback if you use the wrong finger too many times. Dunno if that would be illegal though.

  4. This is not legal advice but fingerprints are not “information’ where as passcodes are, so it’s easier to make a case that you shouldn’t have to disclose your passcode vs. using your fingerprint to unlock it for the,.

  5. J.C. – It doesn’t matter if it is government property or not, but the issue is would a CBP drone have the right security level to access a phone of NASA scientist, which could have research info and emails that can be determined classified information? I sincerely doubt that. Let alone the fact that the scientist in question happens to have Global Entry but has brown skin and likely wears a turban. I doubt the only “security threat” that this scientist posed was CBP drone thought he was Muslim due to his name (which is Indian, BTW).

  6. When crossing the US border just use your Russian passport. No problems as far as the Manchurian Candidate is concerned. We have a real, serious problem in the oval office sports fans. Hopefully all will recognize this despite our domestic political differences.

  7. Any police officer can ask you to unlock your phone and 99% will comply. If you consent then no 4th Amendment protection applies. You must first refuse consent to test whether you will be compelled.

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