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Phone Searches at the US Border Might Be New Normal, Canadian Official Warns

The privacy commissioner says you should be “very concerned.”
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Canada's privacy commissioner has warned Canadians to be "very concerned" about their electronic devices being searched at the US border.

Speaking to a House of Commons committee on Monday, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said that searches of cell phones became more common at US ports of entry between 2015 and 2016.

"These devices contain a lot of sensitive information," he said. "We should be very concerned."


Therrien recommended Canadians consider the "risk tolerance" they have to having the contents of their electronic devices rifled through by US border officials.

"My point is, think about what you're exposing your information to, and limit the amount of information that you bring to the US, because it may be required by customs officers," Therrien said.

In July, a British Columbia woman was permanently banned from the US after officials went through her cell phone for hours and found a sent email to her doctor about a fentanyl overdose she survived in 2016. She did not have a password on her phone. When asked about the rising concern of warrantless electronic device searches at the US border on Tuesday on a press conference call, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dodged the questions, saying, "We are very closely engaged [with US officials] on border issues… It matters to our economy and Canadians who travel back and forth every single day."

Warrantless searches of electronic devices are also practiced on the Canadian side of the border by the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Cell phone and computer searches without warrants recently sparked an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit on behalf of 11 travellers who became subject to searches of this kind at the US border.