What Should You Do if CBP Asks You to Unlock Your Phone?

Analysis of the Ninth Circuit's Decision on Travel Ban
February 9, 2017
Attorney Ahmad Yakzan Appears on the Consumer Quarterback Show
March 13, 2017

There has been a lot of discussions regarding cell phone unlocking at airports These reports mention that CBP is asking US citizens and other individuals to unlock their cell phones before being allowed on flights, to check on their contacts. The simple answer is that you should not do it. It is a bit more complicated than that, however. In my case, if I were asked to unlock my phone, I will refuse such request, since some of my clients’ information is on the phone and they are covered under privilege.
What are the Facts?
A NY Times report mentions that CBP has been asking for US citizens to unlock their phones to check their contacts and social media. In the NY Times story, CBP forced a US citizen to do so and forced him to unlock his phone. I believe, and so does the US Supreme Court, that this is unconstitutional and is an illegal search and seizure request.
What is the law?
The US Supreme Court has ruled on the issue in 2014 in Riley v. State of California. in a nutshell, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement should get a warrant to unlock the phone. Without such warrant, the search will be unconstitutional. It is plain and simple.
What are the arguments for such requests?
The Administration has argued that such searches are needed to defend national security. Regardless of the reasoning, as mentioned above, this is unconstitutional. CBP might argue that US citizens, and other individuals, may not have due process rights at airports, which is false.
What Should You Do if You Receive Such Request?
“Ask for a Warrant”, and refuse to unlock your phone is what the Supreme Court in Riley said. Be adamant in refusing such order.