Are your Mobile Passwords safe from US Customs?
Bitcoin.com has covered many different aspects concerning Bitcoin under the Trump administration. Everything from Bitcoin supporters being appointed to the administration, the planned wall in Mexico, and the possibility of some financial regulations ending. However, Bitcoin proponents may have something to worry about if they travel inside the U.S. border. According to various reports, CBP agents are increasingly searching phones and electronic devices. Even though the CBP and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) legally cannot search electronic devices without a warrant they have been doing so for quite some time. Just recently a U.S.-born scientist was forced to reveal his NASA-issued mobile phone password at a border checkpoint.
Sidd Bikkannavar gave up the passcode to the CBP agent while he waited thirty minutes for it to be returned. According to the CBP the agents had performed an algorithm test looking for threats to national security, but found none.
“This is a huge, huge violation of my work policy. This is a matter of great concern,” explained Bikkannavar.
More Instances of Passphrase Searches
The violation of privacy is setting a precedent and could have severe implications towards bitcoin users keeping wealth on their mobile devices. Moreover, there have been other recorded events in the U.S. of border agents looking for passwords to electronic devices over the past few months. Just last month the New York Times reported on a man named Haisam Elsharkawi who was detained by the CBP for three hours after his flight. According to Elsharkawi, CBP officials pestered him for the phones passphrase and asked if they could view his contacts, social media apps, and photographs.
“I travel all the time, and I was never asked to unlock my phone,” Mr. Elsharkawi told the press. “I have personal photos there, which I think is normal for anyone. It’s my right. It’s my phone.”
According to the CBP, the agency details they can seize your mobile device and may keep it to copy data off of the device. Those who have experienced a phone seizure have said the agency could take your phone for weeks as the CBP states they will “return your property within a reasonable time upon completion of examination.”
One instance of Bitcoin going through customs made headlines back in March of 2014. Bitcoin Not Bombs founder, Davi Barker was harassed by a group of plain-clothed TSA agents. Barker’s luggage was swabbed as the TSA employees said, “We saw bitcoin in your bag and need to check.” According to the agents, the security team was concerned with international travelers carrying more than $10,000 in digital currency.
Agents Could Easily Gain Access to Bitcoin Wallets and Private Keys
The fact of the matter is a lot of bitcoin users carry funds on their mobile device. Phones contain bitcoin wallets, and some even show a mnemonic seed phrase to your private keys. On top of that, government authorities can take the device and copy all the data using their own discretion, and ironically, in private. Additionally, the CBP may also share the device with other agencies for technical assistance and decryption.
“The information may be made available to other agencies for investigation and/or for obtaining assistance relating to jurisdictional or subject matter expertise, or for translation, decryption, or other technical assistance,” explains the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
Of course, agents will need a passphrase, but it seems coercing people to give one up is all too easy these days. The implications of these events with U.S. customs can be frightening for all individuals who recognize privacy as a fundamental sovereign right. All of the sudden, certain rules under Trump’s new guidelines may not be so pleasing to bitcoin enthusiasts after all.
What do you think about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection pressuring people to give up their phones and passphrases? Let us know in the comments below.