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10 Things All Canadians Need To Do If You Don't Want Your Phone To Be Searched At The U.S. Border

The bizarre list of things that alarm border agents.
Senior Editor
10 Things All Canadians Need To Do If You Don't Want Your Phone To Be Searched At The U.S. Border

In the past few months, much media attention has been devoted to the situation at international borders in North America.

As the Trump administration commits human rights abuses at the United States border with Mexico, it also pursues a more aggressive border policy with Canada, including incursions into waters claimed by Canada. The U.S. government also recently published a complete list of the ways they perceive that Canada screws the U.S. So there's a lot of antagonism.

ALSO READ: It's Official, Molson Is Making Marijuana Drinks In Canada

In fact, agents on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have the right to search travellers' phones and computers without a warrant.

That news led the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association to publish the Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook for people passing between the two countries.

The Handbook is particularly concerned with the Canadian Border Services Agency, but the similarity between U.S. and Canadian customs also makes it relevant for people who are about to encounter American border agents emboldened by Trump's attention.

Listed below are nine things listed in the BCCLA Handbook (along with one extra point) that travellers should avoid if they don't want officers to search their devices. The list ranges from the normal to the totally bizarre red flags that alarm border agents.  


Have more than one electronic device

Travelling with more than one device per person is considered suspicious behaviour.

Buy a last-minute ticket

Last-minute travel is an indication that you are trying to quickly flee. Agents may want to check your devices to make sure you're not a fugitive or stealing any materials or intellectual property.

Possess anime or manga

This is just weird. According to the Privacy Handbook, border agents are especially skeptical of Japanese graphic novels and books. That anime you wanted to read on your camping trip? Best to leave it at home. The international community at-large is suspicious of Japanese print media for its sometimes inappropriate pornographic images of infantilized women.

"Demonstrate an interest in pornography"

The possession of manga is enough reason for border agents to conduct a thorough search of your belongings, including the main screens of your phone and computer. If they then spot folders containing pornographic content, or even porn websites in your browser history, they will scrutinize all of your electronic information.

Travel to dangerous Germany

According to the Handbook, Germany, Spain, Cuba, and countries in Southeast Asia are suspect destinations. Visiting these places could lead to a search at the border. Federal authorities in the United States are also wary of travel histories that include countries in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Be a single man

Single men travelling alone are suspicious to border agents. Statistics show that such men are much more likely to commit crimes and agents aren't taking any chances.

Have old information on your suitcase

When was the last time you updated the personal information on your suitcase? I'm pretty sure my suitcase still lists my childhood home as my address. Come to think of it, I also have five old plane tickets attached to my bag. That could be a red flag to officers at the border.

Be nervous

Agents are specially trained to spot unusual behaviour. Talking to a border agent can be intimidating but try to keep your cool. Any agitiation could warrant a search. Personally, I always study when talking to any officer. So this terrifies me.

Have a strange itinerary

Travelling to destinations off the beaten path is questionable. If you don't have a good explanation for why you have an irregular route, agents might want to search your devices to make sure you're not delivering or picking up illicit material.

Crack a joke

This one is not from the Handbook, but rather from my personal experience. Agents need to treat everything you say completely seriously. Making a joke about illegal activity could lead to a search. That's what almost happened to me when my friend joked about smuggling.


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