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It Is Law That I Have To Tell CBSA Agents My Cellphone & Laptop Password?

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Jr. Member
Apr 18, 2008
175 posts
32 upvotes
Vancouver

It Is Law That I Have To Tell CBSA Agents My Cellphone & Laptop Password?

Not long ago I went to pick up my online purchases. I crossed the the border coming back to Canada. The agent at the booth thinks that I should go into secondary inspection. I wasn't nervous or hesitant in answering questions. But anyway, they have the discretion to send me in, so I went into secondary inspection. The agents inside asked me give them my cellphone and the password to unlock my cellphone. I read on many places online saying I don't have to provide password to my cellphone. One example is on reddit, the entire thread is people saying we don't need to provide police officers the password to our cellphone. Link here: http://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/2 ... f_sending/

First of all, I want to say that I got out of secondary inspection with no problem because I didn't break any law and I declare everything I bought right to the exact $ amount. However, I wouldn't be able to walk out of there if I didn't give up my cellphone and laptop password.

I asked for the legislation for the case regarding people having to give up their cellphone password. They provided me a pamphlet that says they can search my phone and laptop. It was a generic pamphlet saying what to expect at the border. So I asked for the case ruling from a judge. They said "why are you so difficult. Ok you want to play games. We are open 24 hours. You can stay here as long as you want" I said "I just have some questions". They said "I don't have time for your questions. If you don't give me your password now we will arrest you and put you in a cell". They said they will arrest me for hindering an investigation. Not knowing what to do, I gave them my password. I did not and never do anything illegal. I just enjoy my rights and my privacy. I think nowadays a cellphone contains a lot of private materials, which I don't think anyone want other people to just read about them. I also read online that we have the basic right to remain silent. Apparently not at the border.

I filed a complaint because the border agent said inappropriate things to me and the bad attitude. A superintendent got back to me. She provided me a link to the case law regarding people's right at the border. Link here: http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcpc/doc/20 ... cpc16.html

It seems like people don't have much rights at the border. Apparently, at the border, the agents don't need any ground to search your stuff, unlike when you encounter a cop. And according to the case, it's at border agent's discretion whether they want to strip search you. They could even perform body cavity search at their discretion. I was advised not to bring cellphone and laptop crossing the border if I don't want them to be searched. Any thoughts? Is it a myth debunked that we actually have to provide cellphone & laptop password to border agents?
263 replies
Sr. Member
Aug 4, 2010
864 posts
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Your first mistake was thinking that US law = Canadian law...if you do your research, do it on the right jurisdiction.
Penalty Box
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Jan 1, 2008
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You have the right to simply deny their request to provide a password to your smart items. Simply because you forgot it. Yes, you have been stressed and forgot it. Ex. enter it three times and block the computer. If they have a judge order (they are executing a warrant) to remove the hd drive from your phone or computer - good for them. Let them remove and inspect the content. But if they removed the hard drives and damaged or made unusable your smart items because of this subsequently - feel free to request Her Majesty for a compensation. And the compensation is equal to the purchase value of the items. And if you lost a commercial valuable information (ex. contract value of $1 billion) while HDD inspection was done or the hard drive that contained that info was damaged completely - feel free to contact your lawers with proofs that the information was there but lost. They will guide you for a long and maybe a rich-end process.


And this http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcpc/doc/20 ... cpc16.html all happened because the poor guy provided the password.
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Jan 3, 2014
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Smither wrote:
Nov 20th, 2014 10:37 pm
It seems like people don't have much rights at the border. Apparently, at the border, the agents don't need any ground to search your stuff, unlike when you encounter a cop. And according to the case, it's at border agent's discretion whether they want to strip search you. They could even perform body cavity search at their discretion. I was advised not to bring cellphone and laptop crossing the border if I don't want them to be searched. Any thoughts? Is it a myth debunked that we actually have to provide cellphone & laptop password to border agents?
That's a pretty decent summary. In most countries, if you're crossing the border you're subject to inspection, as well as anything you're bringing with you. You can refuse to provide your phone password, but Customs has the option to seize the item and touch base with a judge to get a court order compelling you to provide the password or authorise hacking/breaking into the device.

Essentially, if you don't want it being subject to inspection, don't take it across the border. In either direction.

As for that reddit article you included the link to (and glad you did, because everything you read on the internet is true), I looked through the first couple of postings and it's kind of right - under the US 5th Amendment, people do not have to say or do anything that may help incriminate or provide evidence against them, so they don't have to provide passwords, etc. But as I've written above, there's nothing to stop them getting a court order authorising someone else to crack the security.
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Jul 17, 2008
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If you have time to waste, don't say anything and let them go through the process of opening your phone, getting a court order, etc. If they keep you in a cell, you can come back after them (might require you money to pay for lawyer unless you are up to looking into what needs to be done by yourself). you can claim lost wages (if you had to go to work next day), etc. Not sure if it will fly though

But yes, crossing any border between any country, you are subject to search including everything you brought with you. But you are definitely not "obligated" to give them anything. However, they can take their time to "investigate you" since everyone is subject to search at the border. Unlike on the street where police must have a "probable reason"
Newbie
Jul 27, 2012
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Is it insufficient to enter the password yourself? At least you could protect your passwords then.
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Jan 3, 2014
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Dinu wrote:
Nov 20th, 2014 10:58 pm
And this http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcpc/doc/20 ... cpc16.html all happened because the poor guy provided the password.
No, it happened because he was a perverted sicko who had kiddie porn on his phone.
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Nov 7, 2008
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Messerschmitt wrote:
Nov 21st, 2014 1:34 am
If you have time to waste, don't say anything and let them go through the process of opening your phone, getting a court order, etc. If they keep you in a cell, you can come back after them (might require you money to pay for lawyer unless you are up to looking into what needs to be done by yourself). you can claim lost wages (if you had to go to work next day), etc. Not sure if it will fly though

But yes, crossing any border between any country, you are subject to search including everything you brought with you. But you are definitely not "obligated" to give them anything. However, they can take their time to "investigate you" since everyone is subject to search at the border. Unlike on the street where police must have a "probable reason"
Actually you are obligated to answer questions in relation to your goods that you're bringing into the country.
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Jan 3, 2014
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denntol wrote:
Nov 21st, 2014 2:18 am
Actually you are obligated to answer questions in relation to your goods that you're bringing into the country.
Actually, Messerschmitt was partially correct in his statement. There's an obligation to answer questions and provide anything you're bringing into the country for inspection, however there is no requirement for you to provide passwords and the like when asked by a CBSA officer. The courts can compel you to do so, but a CBSA officer cannot do so. Of course, they can ask and if you refuse they can detain you and/or the device for inspection so they'll get their way eventually.

As for his legal thoughts on the other elements, he's a little off base there.
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Deal Addict
Feb 10, 2013
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That's why you wipe your phone before crossing the border and your laptop as well. Leave nothing they can inspect. Phone wise basically have a seperate traveling phone. If they want to inspect it, sureeeeee, but there's nothing. Backup your data then do a factory reset. Cross the border, download your data back.
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Nov 22, 2002
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The problem I see is even if legally the subject does not have to give up his password, CBSA can make his life a living hell.
There's what's right and legal and then there's how much of a "fight" do you want to endure to protect your rights.
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Jan 3, 2014
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bluebellrose wrote:
Nov 21st, 2014 3:02 am
That's why you wipe your phone before crossing the border and your laptop as well. Leave nothing they can inspect. Phone wise basically have a seperate traveling phone. If they want to inspect it, sureeeeee, but there's nothing. Backup your data then do a factory reset. Cross the border, download your data back.
...or just have nothing to worry about on your phone in the first place.
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Sep 10, 2009
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GT&A
these stories make me sick...
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longitude wrote:
Nov 21st, 2014 7:37 am
these stories make me sick...
Not after you've watched the TV show's
"Border Security/Patrol"

End of the day it's very easy to avoid these issues, if you've done anything illegal, don't travel to another country.
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Apr 24, 2006
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If you don't provide username / password your equipment can be seized for further examination.

Typically they're looking for child porn, they don't care about collection of movies downloaded from some newsgroup.
I Declare - The official guide to your Customs exemptions and item restrictions when returning to Canada from abroad.
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