Bitcoiners Beware – U.S. Customs Agents Are Coercing for Mobile Passwords

Bitcoiners Beware – U.S. Customs Agents Are Coercing for Mobile Passwords

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Now bitcoiners have another topic to consider as Trump has beefed up U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policies with agents searching the phones of travelers at border checkpoints.

Also read: The Digital Revolution Increases Sovereignty

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agents Are Coercing Travelers for Mobile Passwords

Bitcoiners Be Aware U.S. Customs Are Coercing for Mobile PasswordsBitcoin.com has covered many different aspects concerning Bitcoin under the Trump administration. Everything from Bitcoin supporters being appointed to the administration, the planned wall in Mexico, and the possibility of some financial regulations ending. However, Bitcoin proponents may have something to worry about if they travel inside the U.S. border. According to various reports, CBP agents are increasingly searching phones and electronic devices. Even though the CBP and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) legally cannot search electronic devices without a warrant they have been doing so for quite some time. Just recently a U.S.-born scientist was forced to reveal his NASA-issued mobile phone password at a border checkpoint.

Sidd Bikkannavar gave up the passcode to the CBP agent while he waited thirty minutes for it to be returned. According to the CBP the agents had performed an algorithm test looking for threats to national security, but found none.

“This is a huge, huge violation of my work policy. This is a matter of great concern,” explained Bikkannavar.

Bitcoiners Be Aware U.S. Customs Are Coercing for Mobile Passwords

More Instances of Passphrase Searches

The violation of privacy is setting a precedent and could have severe implications towards bitcoin users keeping wealth on their mobile devices. Moreover, there have been other recorded events in the U.S. of border agents looking for passwords to electronic devices over the past few months. Just last month the New York Times reported on a man named Haisam Elsharkawi who was detained by the CBP for three hours after his flight. According to Elsharkawi, CBP officials pestered him for the phones passphrase and asked if they could view his contacts, social media apps, and photographs.

“I travel all the time, and I was never asked to unlock my phone,” Mr. Elsharkawi told the press. “I have personal photos there, which I think is normal for anyone. It’s my right. It’s my phone.”

According to the CBP, the agency details they can seize your mobile device and may keep it to copy data off of the device. Those who have experienced a phone seizure have said the agency could take your phone for weeks as the CBP states they will “return your property within a reasonable time upon completion of examination.”

One instance of Bitcoin going through customs made headlines back in March of 2014. Bitcoin Not Bombs founder, Davi Barker was harassed by a group of plain-clothed TSA agents. Barker’s luggage was swabbed as the TSA employees said, “We saw bitcoin in your bag and need to check.” According to the agents, the security team was concerned with international travelers carrying more than $10,000 in digital currency.   

Agents Could Easily Gain Access to Bitcoin Wallets and Private Keys

Bitcoiners Be Aware U.S. Customs Are Coercing for Mobile PasswordsThe fact of the matter is a lot of bitcoin users carry funds on their mobile device. Phones contain bitcoin wallets, and some even show a mnemonic seed phrase to your private keys. On top of that, government authorities can take the device and copy all the data using their own discretion, and ironically, in private. Additionally, the CBP may also share the device with other agencies for technical assistance and decryption.

“The information may be made available to other agencies for investigation and/or for obtaining assistance relating to jurisdictional or subject matter expertise, or for translation, decryption, or other technical assistance,” explains the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Of course, agents will need a passphrase, but it seems coercing people to give one up is all too easy these days. The implications of these events with U.S. customs can be frightening for all individuals who recognize privacy as a fundamental sovereign right. All of the sudden, certain rules under Trump’s new guidelines may not be so pleasing to bitcoin enthusiasts after all.

What do you think about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection pressuring people to give up their phones and passphrases? Let us know in the comments below.


Images courtesy of Pixabay, Shutterstock, and CBP.gov.


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  • Robert Salazar

    Fuck trump and the tsa fuck’n crooks let the son of a bitch traitor show his due taxes welc9ome to nazi usa rags garbage country now

    • Harry Jordon

      You seem like just the type of person I want searched every time thank God for trump

      • Adella Toulon-Foerster

        Respect the autonomy of other people. Stay on your lawn.

        Thank God for bitcoin.

    • Common sense escapes liberals.

      That right there is ignorant. All of those searches happened BEFORE trump. So no, FUCK Odumbell! and that cock sucker lieing his ass off while he stole from those that work for a living so he could buy votes from lazy ass libtards who have their fucking hand out begging for crumbs rather than work like real humans.

    • Common sense escapes liberals.

      And quite frankly Mr. Salazar, I seriously doubt you would know what a tax filing looked like if it bit you in the ass.

    • Common sense escapes liberals.

      In case it is too complicated for you to parse through and find dates. Here is a quote from the article.”One instance of Bitcoin going through customs made headlines back in March of 2014.” So once again… FUCK Odumbell and FUCK ignorant ass libtards.

      • RobSa

        Anti-liberal stuff here? Really? libtards? That is very nine-year old of you.

  • Zeth

    “We saw bitcoin in your bag” ??? What’s that supposed to me?

    Ok, yes, some agents could take your phone at the airport.
    Any number of agents could take your phone.
    A thief could take your phone.
    You could also leave your phone in the Uber, on the train, at the restaurant.
    You could drop it under a bus tire and it could get crushed.

    Who’s carrying $10,000 in a hot wallet? Not too smart.

    • Common sense escapes liberals.

      That is a real good point Zeth. That is a lot of money to risk on a cell phone. There are countless ways it can bite you in the rump.

      • Mateus Miguel

        I think that the major concern here is that people’s privacy is being violated. If anyone is carrying 1 dollar or 100, of even more is their money, and they carry it the way they think is better.

        As said before, the action of searching people’s phone, under the excuse they may be travelling with more than $10.000 is not acceptable an is elligal.

  • Common sense escapes liberals.

    Somewhere along the line we have allowed the government WAY TO MUCH power. It seems we are all so concerned over political correctness that we allowed the government access to our very private lives rather than allowing them to protect us in ways that will help. The first problem is that they need to stop searching every granny or grand pa simply to show they are not profiling. The profile of a terrorist is VERY common and it is not a white person to begin with. It is also NOT Christians! Don’t come at me with one off bullshit to try and act like it is not predominately middle eastern males of Muslim descent. It is delusional to think it is somehow intellectually superior to delude yourself. But nope. We are now getting our phones searched when the real answer is to profile and actually achieve some results. These Muslims laugh at us behind our backs because they are using the far left agenda to kick our asses. Keep it up and we will have real problems. The lefists are so dependent on the government for their survival, they are like sheep being led to the slaughter. And all so we can pretend this problem isn’t simply a faith that teaches death to all infidels.

    • Pater Tenebrarum

      “We” have allowed precisely nothing. It all started after 9/11 with the Patriot Act – I do not recall a referendum on that law, or on any of the other, related laws that have come into effect since then (both under Bush and Obama. This is emphatically not a “left-right” issue). It was blindingly obvious from the beginning that terrorism was used as a pretext to enact laws that would allow government to circumvent constitutional protections to its heart’s content by invoking national security. We effectively live under ubiquitous and total surveillance since approx. 2002. No amount of complaining will do any good. There is no-one to vote for who would reverse any of these legal provisions. Besides, the majority of people couldn’t care less, as maddening as that may be (just look at recent polls). Think about it for a moment: What exactly was the result of Edward Snowden’s revelations? I still remember Obama’s cynical remark that he “welcomed the discussion” (funny enough, he apparently hadn’t welcomed it before Snowden’s files were made public) and Mr. Clapper perjuring himself before Congress, only to later say he “misspoke” and Congressmen actually defending him after he had lied to their faces under oath (could it be he has some files on them? Just asking). Nothing happened to him – he didn’t even have to resign. Has anything else changed? Nope – nothing! The only effect was intimidation. Now people will self-censor, as they have been put on notice: we watch and listen all the time. It’s the same with these outrageous TSA stories we frequently read or hear about. They serve only one purpose: intimidation. A perfectly innocent NASA scientist is detained, pressed for his passphrases and basically treated like a common criminal? The fact that this becomes public does not result in any changes to what is now apparently standard operating procedure. It only serves to let the rest of us know that no-one is safe and that we had better forget about the 4th amendment from here on out (only until “terrorism” is defeated of course, which will be never). But you know how it is, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. Guess which well-known political philosopher has come up with this witty bonmot. His name was Joseph Goebbels.

      • Common sense escapes liberals.

        God almighty. You got yourself all worked up.
        First… Bush was far from being conservative. We all know his policies were as liberal as one can be without crossing the line to “snowflake”.
        Second… Obama has had the helm for 8 very long years and the terrorist problem got worse once he took charge. Far worse. Obama get’s the credit for the “JV team” as well.
        The leftists lost the election in a mandate and all they could come up with was “the Russians did it” Bawaaahahahaha. Thank god Trump was elected. I can’t even imagine the carnage to America under four years of crooked stealery.
        What is reality is that the leftists think more government will fix everything. Even after 8 years of more government destroying everything.

  • Jamie

    “According to the agents, the security team was concerned with international travelers carrying more than $10,000 in digital currency.” Having more than $10,000 in your bitcoin wallet is not carrying the money into the US any more than having more than $10,000 in your bank account is if you have your credit card in your pocket.

    • BlogduFennec

      Nope its not the same, bitcoin is not easily traceable. And the money is locally (well the code is) stored. So its definitely an asset.

      • Jamie

        So you believe that my ANX account stores all my bitcoins on my phone? An interesting idea but not a fact. That is exactly like saying that my bank balance is stored on my debit card. It is only a device to access that account, it is not where the money is.

        • Common sense escapes liberals.

          Truthfully, I was so distracted by Jamie’s definition of asset, I flew right past that one. I do store btc on a removable drive but my devices are all simply accessing my accounts that are elsewhere.
          In the end, it is just wrong IMHO for the government, any government entity, to be able to do witch hunts on my personal devices. Phones, tablets, computers..ect.
          They have to get a search warrant which requires probable cause to dig around in my home in America. Why the hell is it of with anyone that they dig around on our personal devices with no warrant?
          The whole thing is getting way out of control for “the people”.

          • Jamie

            I am not trying to define asset. I am thinking about the concept of currency, which this is making outdated. The law relates to the amount of physical currency you are carrying not the amount of virtual currency you are carrying. I believe that bitcoins are virtual in the same way that a credit card is. Cash or gold are regulated by immigration law. I believe that regulation to be outdated now but that is another discussion. If you have $15,000 in your pocket you are breaking the law but if you have a debit card and $50,000 in your account you are not breaking the law even though you can use that $50,000 in your account once you have entered the country. If you really believe that the bitcoin exist on your phone then put 1 bitcoin in that wallet and leave the rest in ANX. Once through immigration transfer 100 bitcoin from ANX to the wallet in your pocket. I used to get into a lot of these debates when I worked in the middle east and did not want to pay 6% of my earning to Western Union.

          • Billy Ryans Comps

            This only concerns people crossing our borders, in which, yes they DO have the right to look through those things, as they should.

        • Mateus Miguel

          Very good explanation(credit card comparison), their arguments make no sense, and your simple example shows that.

          These are the same people who probably say ” the earth is squared and not rounded ”
          Let them keep their ideology for themselves, they will also try to convince us, that the Santa is real…

      • Common sense escapes liberals.

        while those two are true, it is not how an asset is defined. I took the liberty of copy paste from a quick web search.

        What is an ‘Asset’

        An asset is a resource with economic value that an individual, corporation or country owns or controls with the expectation that it will provide future benefit. Assets are reported on a company’s balance sheet, and they are bought or created to increase the value of a firm or benefit the firm’s operations. An asset can be thought of as something that in the future can generate cash flow, reduce expenses, improve sales, regardless of whether it’s a company’s manufacturing equipment or a patent on a particular technology.

    • Common sense escapes liberals.

      This is actually an interesting perspective. It begs the question. Is bitcoin “money”? If it is. Where is it. If it is on a remote server is the phone or device that you access it with holding the money? We do refer to the storage place as a “wallet”. But what if it is not stored on the phone you are accessing it with? Take coinbase for instance.
      I am wondering if we might look at the access device as a check book with a register to keep track of what you spend.
      What about the drug trafficker that has his cash in a foreign bank friendly to hidden assets? Is his phone access tool a valid form of evidence?
      In the end we seem to be all to willing for loss of our privacy and rights to government entities in the name of “safety” .

      • Andreas Antonopoulos has expressed that the name “key chain” might be more appropriate than wallet since it stores the keys and not the “money”.

        • Common sense escapes liberals.

          Thank You. I am always happy to learn.

      • Fabricio

        Bitcoins are account balances in a digital ledger book replicated in thousands of computer databases all over the world. The Bitcoin network is the set of all those computers.

        Your 2.75 BTC is the account balance of the account you control. What you have in your wallet app is the private key (a secret number) that allows you send a cryptographically signed message that the network will recognize as coming from the account owner (whoever knows the private key is the account owner).

        If you write a name in a thousand books and ship them all over the world, where is the name stored? The only reasonable answer is that it is stored in multiple places all over the world.
        (Since it is not a physical object, which must exist only in one place at a time, but information, it can be stored in more than one place simultaneously.)

      • Jamie

        Bitcoin is money but it is not currency and it has broken the link between the two. We have always had a tangible link between the virtual money that we have been using for the past couple of decades and the currency that we know. You get paid in $$$ but it goes into your account and you use plastic to pay for everything or the bank pays your bills for you directly. You go to a machine that gives you some currency from your account and that helps you think about your money in the terms of $$$, currency.
        Bitcoin has broken that. It is not currency, there are no coins or notes. It is purely virtual and to get currency you need to convert to a local currency and make a transaction to trade for local currency. The laws of the land were written before currency made the transition to virtual money but while the link remained the laws continued to make sense. But now the laws do not make sense and rather than update the laws the powers that be would rather destroy Bitcoin. Luddites that wish to stop progress. It is the same as the music industry fighting Napster to try and stop the public from having the system they want and then iTunes took their market from them. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

  • Adella Toulon-Foerster

    10k on a phone wallet is the dumbest idea, ever. Buy a ledger or a trezor… or both and stop giving these tyrants passcodes. Unless it’s the one that cloud backs up + kill switch + cute puppy pictures. Everyone loves puppies :).

  • BlogduFennec

    Factory reset

  • Brian

    Customs rules only care about the unit not the USD Equivalent. It would have to be 10,000 Bitcoins not $10,000 worth of Bitcoins. 10,000 pesos would be illegal. Now if they officially consider Bitcoin a currency that I think is a grey area.

    • Brian

      A monetary instrument is a form of domestic or foreign currency that includes, but is not limited to, checks, certain investments, traveler’s checks and money orders, according to the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch. This is the legal definition that government bodies use.

    • Billy Ryans Comps

      you are allowed to bring as much money as you want into the US, as long as you declare it. it doesn’t matter if its 10 trillion bitcoins or dollars or yen

  • bluemangroup

    So if the CBP can do this for your mobile device, are they doing this for laptops too? One can easily have have $10k worth of crypto on a wallet in their laptop. Of course backups are at home “just in case” something would happen to the hard drive but if mobile devices are being accessed, how would laptops be any different?

    • Billy Ryans Comps

      they arent. anytime you cross ANY border into ANY country, you are subject to search. you and everything on you

      • bluemangroup

        Ok – that is scary. I will need to re-think how I travel with my laptop which contains my crypto wallets. Maybe delete the wallet when travelling and reinstall it when at my destination but just keep the dat file on the laptop – what a hassle. It is not like the coins are on the laptop. Maybe start leaving the crypto in the cloud on a web wallet (which is even more scary).

  • Here’s a free idea for the Trezor people – a Trezor suppository and/or Trezor tampon! No thanks necessary – maybe a tip 🙂 1LPphDVKKKBHH4GJQ9XagY2a3a5YVr1V8E

  • Zeth

    Well, this is more or less my point…there’s nothing to see.
    But that’s quite an interesting article, thanks for the link.

    I’m just taking a guess here, and since this happened in early 2014 or earlier, it is very likely that the agents weren’t acting on any special training at all–but rather vague legend. Just about every article ever written about bitcoin includes a “photo of metal token” coins with the emblazoned symbol, some other minor graphic flair, and the requite 32bit binary digital message that can hardly mean anything more than: “23” or “72”. Ordinary people who know anything about bitcoin, “know that this is what they look like”.

  • Patrick

    cpb document linked in article refers to electronic devices, a laptop wud fall under that

  • RobSa

    Don’t cross borders. I don’t and have no plans to.

  • GaryL

    Here’s a thought. Buy a throwaway prepaid cell for the travel portion, and FedEx your smartphone to you destination, then back home when you leave.

  • milmacrs

    As a foreigner who visits the US once in a while and who does business with a US based FinTech startup, I was expecting the US to become a safer place to visit both for leisure and business. Not anymore, as far as privacy is concerned. I was really hoping your country would again be an icon of individual rights and freedom as it once was, but this is a turn around.

  • David Arulnathan

    USA…..going Paranoid….in Asia they say ” they catch the rats but let the elephants go”

  • David Arulnathan

    when u travel use a different sim card where there is no btc….maybe your grandma’s sim card.

  • Billy Ryans Comps

    This is nothing new. They have been doing this for years. Just watch the Netflix Series, Border Patrol. They show them searching through the phones of ppl coming into the US and other countries time after time after time. I love how the author of the article immediately puts Trump’s name on it. I’m not saying I agree with the some TSA agent holding the keys to all your money, but CBP has a job to do. You can carry more than 10 grand into the US, they just want you to declare it, so it shouldn’t be a problem to declare anything if you have it.