In a July 30 privacy impact assessment, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security detailed its U.S. Border Patrol digital forensics program, particularly the tools it developed to collect data from electronic devices,media CNET reported. For years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and border agents were allowed to search devices without a warrant until the court found the practice unconstitutional in November 2019.
In 2018, the agency searched more than 33,000 devices, compared with 30,200 searches in 2017 and 4,764 in 2015. Civil rights advocates oppose the surveillance, saying it violates people’s privacy rights.
The report highlights the Department of Homeland Security’s capabilities and shows that agents can create an accurate copy of the data on the device when travelers cross the border. According to the Department of Homeland Security, data extracted from devices can include:
The IP address used by the device.
The GPS location used by the device.
Social media information.
Base station information.
Videos and pictures.
Account information (user name and alias)
Financial accounts and transactions.
The list of tasks.
The agency did not respond to a request for comment. Reported that the retention of these data for 75 years of policy still exists.
The data is extracted and stored on the Department of Homeland Security’s local digital forensics network and transferred to PenLink, a telephone monitoring software that helps manage metadata obtained from devices. The company is used by police across the United States to intercept text messages, phone calls and GPS data on devices.
But it can also analyze data from social media and technology platforms, according to its website.
In its free trial offer, PenLink tells potential customers that it can map the data it collects, including Snapchat’s geographic location, Facebook’s record location and Google’s geofence data. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
“USBP uses the information it collects using these tools to develop leads, identify trends associated with illegal activities, and further take law enforcement actions related to terrorism, human trafficking and drug trafficking, and other activities that pose a threat to border security or national security or indicate criminal activity,” DHS reports.
The Department of Homeland Security says the privacy risk of using these tools is low because only trained forensic technicians can use them and only extract data related to the investigation.
The assurances stand in stark contrast to what lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have found, following lawsuits that have shown that agents search travelers’ devices without any restrictions, often for unrelated reasons such as enforcing bankruptcy laws and assisting with external investigations.