New attorney device protections at border security

Criminal Defense
By Goodwin Como, P.C.

If you’ve ever hired a lawyer, you’re entitled to certain protections under lawyer confidentiality and attorney-client privilege. But what happens when your lawyer and their devices go through border security? What mechanisms are in place to protect your confidential information in this case?

When most people go through customs, their electronic devices may be searched. Until recently, the rules surrounding the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) ability to search a lawyer’s phone or laptop were the same as for any other traveler.

However, the CBP has recently clarified the protocol for handling lawyers’ devices. If an attorney-with appropriate identification designating them as a legal professional-notifies a CBP official that their electronic device in question contains privileged information, the new directive lays out the manner in which the CBP official should respond and with whom the official should consult prior to examining the device.

The directive also describes how the official should separate confidential from non-confidential material as well as how to properly dispose of any copies of privileged material in the event that any were made. It also specifies that a CBP official may only access information stored on the device itself-not on a cloud-based system. If a CBP official requests an attorney’s device passwords, they must immediately destroy these passwords following the search. In addition, a CBP official may connect an attorney’s device containing privileged information to an external device only in the event that the CBP official has reason to suspect illicit activity or a national security threat.

These enhanced border control protections provide an added layer of security to your attorney’s privileged information.