Examining digital devices at the Canadian border

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Digital devices

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers are allowed to examine all goods you have with you when you 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 digital device is defined as any device that is capable of storing digital data, such as:

Why we examine digital devices

The CBSA has always had a policy on examination of goods. To provide greater certainty, the Agency now has a dedicated policy on examination of digital devices at ports of entry.

CBSA officers do not always examine digital devices. Our policy is to examine a device only if we think we will find evidence on it that border laws have been broken.

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

What to expect if we examine your digital device

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

Failure to grant access to your 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.

The officer should turn your device on airplane mode to disable its ability to send and receive information. This ensures they can only access 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 while protecting the safety and security of the Canadian border. If a BSO encounters content marked as solicitor-client privilege, 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 the contents.

Examining a 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 digital device to you, along with your password. You will then be on your way.

If evidence of an infraction is found, the officer may seize your device. 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.

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

This may take up to 30 calendar days from the date of detention. Once completed, we will return your device, provided we do not find evidence of an infraction. If we do find evidence, we may seize your device.

The CBSA will contact you to arrange the return of your digital device.

The CBSA may seize your device if we determine its contents contain evidence of a contravention of Canadian laws. For example, if the device contains evidence of a crime, contraband or other prohibited or restricted goods, we may seize it.

If this happens, we will notify you about the seizure. We will then explain your options to contest it through the CBSA Recourse Office.

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: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/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. This 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, and 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:

Statistics

From , until , only 0.013% of all travellers who were processed at ports of entry had their digital devices examined. Underscoring the importance and effectiveness of those device examinations, 39.6% of the examinations (refer to column Resultant examinations) conducted since resulted in the officer uncovering a customs or immigration-related offence, which can range from evidence of money laundering, the discovery of prohibited goods that pose a threat to public safety (for example: child pornography, obscenity, and so on), or undervalued or undeclared goods.

These following tables show the number of digital device examinations conducted by border services officers per month. The CBSA began tracking the frequency at which travellers have their electronic devices examined at the border in . The statistics will be updated on a bi-annual basis.

Total number of:

Monthly reports

Calendar year 2019
Month Travellers processed at the border Travellers who had a 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 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 digital device examined Resultant examinations
December 6,970,113 1,195 446
November 6,512,916 840 300

Travelling or returning to Canada? Find out what to expect at the border when arriving by air, land or boat.

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