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Examining personal digital devices at the Canadian border

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Personal digital devices

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers, under the Customs Act, have the authority to examine all goods that cross the border. This means that, just like your luggage, our officers can examine your cell phones, tablets, laptops and any other digital device you are carrying.

A personal digital device is defined as any device that is capable of storing digital data, such as:

Why we examine personal digital devices

The CBSA has always had policies on examination of goods and even has a dedicated policy on the examination of personal digital devices.

CBSA officers do not always examine personal digital devices. Our policy is to examine a device only if concerns exists that border laws may have been contravened.

Reasons an officer might examine your personal digital device(s) include concerns regarding your:

What to expect if we examine your personal digital device

A CBSA officer will start with some questions before examining your personal digital device. To examine the device, the officer will first ask for the password, if the device is password-protected, which will be written down on a piece of paper. You are obligated to provide your password when asked.

Note Failure to grant access to your personal digital device may result in the detention of that device under section 101 of the Customs Act, or seizure of the device under subsection 140 (1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or under section 110 of the Customs Act.

The officer will disable the network connectivity on your device, for example turn on airplane mode to disable its ability to send and receive information. This ensures they can only examine information stored on the device.

They will not have access to:

The officer will usually examine your device in your presence, unless there are operational considerations that make it inappropriate to do so.

Solicitor-client privileged information

The CBSA is committed to respecting privacy rights of travellers while ensuring the safety and security of the Canadian border. If an officer comes across content marked as solicitor-client privilege during their examination, the officer must cease inspecting that document. If there are concerns about the legitimacy of solicitor-client privilege, the device can be set aside for a court to make a determination of its contents

Examining a personal digital device: What happens next

If no evidence of an infraction (that is, proof that you may be contravening a law) is found, the officer will return your personal digital device to you, along with the paper with your password.

If an infraction or evidence of one is found, the officer may seize your device. For example, if the device contains evidence of a crime, contraband or other prohibited or restricted goods, we may seize it. If the officer seizes or detains your device, they will explain the process and next steps to you, including your right to contest the seizure through the CBSA Recourse Office.

If the CBSA cannot absolutely determine whether the device's content is admissible at the port of entry, we may detain the device for further examination.

Once completed, we will return your device, provided we do not find evidence of an infraction. The CBSA will contact you to arrange the return of your personal digital device.

Contesting a seizure

If you wish to file an objection to a CBSA enforcement action, you must file a request for review within 90 days after the date of the enforcement action was taken. Requests for review may be submitted online at: /recourse-recours/menu-eng.html.

Safeguarding Canadians

Whether visiting or returning to Canada, you may be subject to an examination by a CBSA officer to determine your admissibility which includes any goods or vehicle you bring across the border.

Our officers perform regular examinations to ensure compliance with Canadian laws and regulations, including customs, immigration, food, plants and animal legislation. If you are subject to an examination, you can expect to be treated in a courteous, dignified, and professional manner.

An examination can be as simple as a few questions to verify your declaration or determine your admissibility to Canada, but it can also include:


The CBSA examines travellers' personal digital devices when there are concerns that they may contain a contravention or evidence of a contravention of Canadian border laws. Personal digital device examinations are not conducted as a matter of course, however, they are highly effective in uncovering prohibited and harmful contraband.

The CBSA has been tracking the frequency of personal digital device examinations since . From to , only 0.011% of all travellers who were processed at the border, had their personal digital devices examined.

Of these examinations, 37.5% resulted in the detection of a customs or immigration-related contravention. These contraventions ranged from evidence of money laundering, the discovery of prohibited goods that pose a threat to public safety (e.g., child pornography or obscenity), and undervalued or undeclared goods.

In the number of personal digital device examinations decreased, corresponding to the reduced traveller volumes due to COVID-19 border measures. Nearing the end of , traveller volumes began to steadily increase with the easing of COVID-19 border restrictions. The following tables show the number of personal digital device examinations conducted by the CBSA each month. These statistics are updated on a bi-annual basis.

From to :

Monthly reports

Calendar year 2022
Month Travellers processed at the border Travellers who had a personal digital device examined Resultant examinations
December 5,449,152 98 42
November 5,063,138 97 55
October 5,673,635 87 33
September 5,621,094 95 46
August 6,923,497 80 27
July 6,677,716 73 36
June 5,657,318 109 45
May 5,210,587 110 56
April 4,619,699 97 39
March 3,447,754 110 39
February 2,076,958 135 38
January 2,109,291 132 57
Calendar year 2021
Month Travellers processed at the border Travellers who had a personal digital device examined Resultant examinations
December 3,036,390 125 49
November 2,351,764 149 43
October 2,152,088 167 51
September 2,068,895 123 46
August 2,064,180 123 38
July 1,346,570 114 40
June 1,090,717 118 34
May 1,008,148 190 70
April 981,064 153 39
March 977,385 152 25
February 860,326 146 28
January 1,037,282 234 39
Calendar year 2020
Month Travellers processed at the border Travellers who had a personal digital device examined Resultant examinations
December 1,908,411 189 52
November 947,034 152 29
October 1,021,897 206 44
September 1,019,900 185 37
August 1,040,600 216 40
July 965,098 180 38
June 850,846 132 24
May 648,007 131 29
April 581,033 70 10
March 4,589,261 812 214
February 6,515,629 1,340 378
January 6,624,860 561 200
Calendar year 2019
Month Travellers processed at the border Travellers who had a personal digital device examined Resultant examinations
December 7,166,500 731 309
November 6,527,587 641 301
October 7,564,455 666 258
September 8,594,557 893 410
August 11,341,612 813 424
July 10,682,022 1,087 493
June 8,955,396 915 396
May 8,323,796 933 426
April 7,754,147 1,161 444
March 7,951,855 1,100 446
February 6,094,673 1,104 455
January 6,488,510 1,013 372
Calendar year 2018
Month Travellers processed at the border Travellers who had a personal digital device examined Resultant examinations
December 7,052,067 1,097 389
November 6,422,436 921 344
October 7,476,724 1,465 581
September 8,535,608 1,048 469
August 11,045,671 1,103 466
July 10,581,455 1,293 468
June 8,977,814 1,139 493
May 8,302,382 1,168 471
April 7,591,599 1,583 571
March 8,004,829 988 376
February 6,295,015 1,149 393
January 6,608,788 1,359 359
Calendar year 2017
Month Travellers processed at the border Travellers who had a personal digital device examined Resultant examinations
December 6,970,113 1,195 446
November 6,512,916 840 300

Note Travelling or returning to Canada? Cross the border smoothly whether arriving by air, land or boat.

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