Chinese tourists visiting US reminded of rules on cellphone checks at customs

  • Advisory issued after reports of travellers having to hand over their devices for inspection
  • Customs agents have had right to scrutinise electronic equipment since start of 2018
PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 8:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2018, 1:26am

Chinese visitors to the United States have been reminded they may be asked to hand over their phones and other electronic devices to customs agents on arrival, China’s embassy in Washington said on Thursday.

The travel advisory came after several reports of Chinese nationals being asked to comply with regulations introduced at the start of the year giving US Customs and Border Protection agents the right to examine such equipment and access passcode-protected data.

“Chinese citizens should pay attention to this situation in the United States to avoid any inconvenience and loss caused by the inspection of their electronic devices,” the notice said.

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US media have reported cases where individuals were denied entry to the country or even charged for carrying materials on their devices they intended to use to enable them to stay or work in the country illegally. Others were charged with possessing pornographic materials, the notice said.

The United States has stepped up inspections of electronic devices at its borders, with the latest figures showing customs agents conducted 60 per cent more searches in the year that ended in September than they did in the previous 12 months. The spike was attributed to the ever-increasing use of mobile devices, on which agents have found evidence helpful to combating visa fraud, child pornography, terrorist activity, export control breaches, and intellectual property violations, the customs agency said.

“In this digital age, border searches of electronic devices are essential to enforcing the law at the US border and to protecting the American people,” it said in a press release in January.

Increased border security has been a core platform of US President Donald Trump’s administration, with greater scrutiny of visitors and immigrants seeking to enter the United States. But the inspection of electronics has drawn the ire of many travellers, including Americans.

In May, a US federal appeal court ruled that border authorities could not conduct searches without “individualised suspicion” of wrongdoing, after 10 US citizens and a foreign resident filed a lawsuit after having their devices inspected.

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In August, American woman Rejhane Lazoja sued the border protection agency after its officials seized her iPhone on her return to the US from a trip to Switzerland in February.

The Chinese embassy issued similar travel advisories in April and September, reminding visitors to the US of the changes to the border inspection rules and alerting them to the high cost of medical care, frequent robberies, and threat of natural disasters and terrorism.