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Searches of International Travelers’ Electronics Are Soaring

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Searches of phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices by U.S. Customs and Border Protection have nearly doubled over the past year, the agency said earlier this week.

Agents searched electronic devices of 14,993 arriving international travelers from October 2016 and March 2017, 80% more than the 8,383 travelers during the same six-month period a year earlier.

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Former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security Mary Ellen Callahan said that the jump in number of searches is “a conscious strategy on CBP to better leverage the border search loophole,” according to ZDNet. She’s referring to the loophole that allows U.S. customs agents to search devices at ports of entry without obtaining a warrant.

Agents have become more aggressive with searches in the past few years, according to unnamed senior intelligence officials, who spoke to NBC News, after a number of domestic terrorism-related incidents in 2015 and 2016. The increase in searches is also likely due to better technologies that the agency has to more quickly download data such as contacts and travel from phones and laptops.

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The newly released data comes only a few weeks after the U.S. introduced travel restrictions related to electronics on flights from Middle Eastern countries. The new ban prevents passengers on flights from specific countries from carrying laptops and other electronic devices on board with them, to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks on commercial flights.