Traveling to the U.S., what can happen to your smartphone

The United States has tightened controls on the devices you can bring while traveling. Here's what can happen to smartphones, tablets and computers

If we are about to leave for the United States there are several rules that we must know before packing our suitcase. To land in the U.S., in fact, it is now mandatory to remove all electronic items from your luggage. The Transportation Security Administration has decided to do so.

The TSA is the U.S. government agency that deals with airport controls. For some time now, the agency has been tightening restrictions on the suitcases travelers bring into the cabin. Recently, for example, the TSA has tested, on 10 different airports, the preventive control of all electronic objects. In practice, when you arrive at the counters for baggage screening, it will be necessary to remove from the bag not only notebooks (as is the case today) but any device. Including cameras, tablets, e-Readers, lenses, sensors and smartphones. Given the positive results of the test, these rules have been applied to any U.S. airport.

Electronic Devices on the Airplane

Obviously, these restrictions are valid only and exclusively for those traveling within the U.S., for flights in other countries we will not have these problems. On the other hand, we will have to comply with these rules even if we only have a stopover in the US territory. What does this mean? The more thorough controls will create longer queues. Therefore, in order to avoid inconveniences, it is better to arrive at the airport earlier than in the past.

What can happen to our smartphones?

In the United States, besides the Transportation Security Administration, there is also the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that deals with customs controls. When traveling in the U.S. we have to prepare ourselves psychologically for more pressing checks by airport personnel than in Europe. It is not uncommon, for example, that our smartphone can be checked. It is unlikely that the TSA will ask for the phone, unless it is really suspicious during the baggage scanner. Instead, it is much easier for CBP to stop us for a full investigation, which will include checking our phone.

Our data

CBP is authorized to check our messages, email conversations, contacts and even social media that we have on our smartphone. And even apps and photos. It may seem like an invasion of privacy, and indeed it is, but the agency has permission to conduct these checks. The purpose is to prevent terrorists or miscreants from crossing the U.S. border. And don't think these checks happen only in extraordinary cases. In 2015, CBP stopped about 8,500 travelers. While in 2016, the number rose to 19,000. Of course compared to the number of travelers entering the U.S. this is a very small number. If we are stopped CBP copies the data on our phone for cross investigation. But if they don't find anything suspicious, they are forced to delete any information saved. Also often CBP reserves the right to keep the mobile device for 5 days. But there are cases of smartphones being held for checks for weeks and months.

What if we refuse?

What happens if we refuse to unlock the smartphone at customs? Simple, we will be denied access to the US. This only happens for those who are not residents or citizens of the United States. And do not think that it is necessary to come from a country in the Middle East or a nation considered as "hostile". What if we went to a lawyer? That would lengthen the checks against us by hours, or days. In addition, we would have to pay for the lawyer's services because this case is not covered by the government, as is the case in court with court-appointed lawyers. Therefore, the advice is to make a backup before traveling to prevent CBP from looking at our private photos or messages.