New tools allow DHS to extract traveler’s device data


The Department of Homeland Security has detailed the kind of data it can extract from devices as travelers cross the border – it includes location history, bookmarks, social media info, emails, contacts, call logs and more.

The Issue

The DHS continues to increase the amount of searches it conducts on travelers devices – in 2018, over 33,000 devices were searched, a significant uptick compared to 2015’s numbers. Only 4,700 devices were searched that year.

With the help of forensic tools and Penlink PLX, which helps store and manage the collected data, DHS can extract the following data from devices.

  • Contacts 
  • Call logs/details 
  • IP addresses used by the device 
  • Calendar events 
  • GPS locations used by the device 
  • Emails
  • Social media information
  • Cell site information
  • Phone numbers
  • Videos and pictures
  • Account information (user names and aliases)
  • Text/chat messages
  • Financial accounts and transactions
  • Location history
  • Browser bookmarks
  • Notes
  • Network information
  • Tasks list

While the DHS maintains that it only searches devices and extracts data that would be relevant to existing investigations, lawyers from the ACLU and the EFF have argued otherwise.

Your move

Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to avoid having your phone’s data extracted if DHS chooses to search your device. However, on a case-by-case basis, you can limit how much information your apps and mobile browser are giving off and being kept by your device.

Clearing your cache, never remembering history, and not syncing with your other devices can help limit how much information your browser app keeps about your behavior— though it may come at a practical cost.

To learn more about the data collection practice, visit CNET.

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