President Trump’s Executive Order expanding the pre-existing and ongoing #MuslimBan from foreign airports to US points of entry, by forbidding entry to the US by citizens of specified blacklisted countries, doesn’t say anything explicit about searches or interrogation of people entering or leaving the US.
But this Executive Order seems to have been interpreted by US Customs and Border Protection officers at US borders and international airports and at “preclearance” sites abroad as giving them a green light for intensified questioning and searches (“extreme vetting”) of travelers including searches and demands for passwords to laptops, cellphones, and other digital devices.
In response to this wave of digital harassment and snooping at airports and borders, several news outlets, civil liberties organizations, and free press and journalists’ rights organizations have posted technical and legal advisories about how journalists and ordinary travelers can protect their data when they travel.
We welcome this attention to airport and border search law, and these efforts to educate travelers.
We want to add one potentially significant law that few travelers (or CBP officers or TSA checkpoint staff) are aware of, and that isn’t mentioned in any of the advice to travelers about airport and border searches that we’ve seen recently: The Privacy Protection Act of 1980.
We’ve written about the Privacy Protection Act several times before, especially in the context of border searches of activists and journalists. But the protection offered by this law isn’t limited to journalists. Here’s an unfortunately necessarily refresher on what this law means and what you can do to take advantage of it: