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Here’s how to protect your data at the border

B.C. residents warned to turn off their phones at the border

A civil liberties watchdog is warning B.C. residents to turn off their phones and backup their data before heading back across the border into Canada.

In a report released Wednesday, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association outlined how border security agents can access your data, and even detain you if they believe you have information they need on your phone, tablet or computer.

According to the association, usual privacy regulation that prevents authorities from searching electronic devices doesn’t apply at the border.

“The Customs Act gives the Canadian Border Services Agency broad powers to search people and goods coming into the country, including the things that people bring with them,” the report notes.

“This includes the content – the files, photos and videos – on your digital devices.”

In order to search electronic devices, border guards just need:

  • reasonable grounds to believe that the person has not revealed their identity or has hidden on their personal documents that are relevant to their admissibility
  • reasonable grounds to believe that the person is involved with people smuggling, human trafficking, or document fraud

However, as border guards can only search the data on the device – and not in the cloud – the BCCLA recommends that people offload sensitive information and delete it from their device.

In order to search the cloud, the report notes, guards require a warrant from a judge.

But remember: if a guard can’t get access to your data, they may seize your phone, or make a backup of the data on it.

How to keep your data private:

Password-protect your device

Although the authorities can ask for a password, there is no legal certainty about whether or not a person must provide it. However, the BCCLA warns that border security agents have in the past detained and arrested people for not giving up a password. Make sure to use two-factor authentication, in case guards seize one device but not the other.

Leave your phone at home

If you don’t have a phone, officers can neither search it nor detain you for not giving up a password.

Delete data

If you don’t need it on your device right now, back it up to the cloud and delete it off your phone. Make sure to fully delete it, however – just deleted files can often end up in an easily-accessible recycling bin.

Turn off your device

Security experts often have ways to access the data on a phone even if you don’t give them your password, as long as your device is on.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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