Digital Device Examination at the Canadian Border

Published on: April 30th, 2020
Last updated: March 8th, 2024

Whether visiting or returning to Canada, you may be subject to an examination by a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer to determine your admissibility. This includes any goods or vehicle you bring across the border, as well as digital devices such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops.

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CBSA has always had a policy around the examination of goods. In order to provide greater clarity for border crossers, the CBSA now has a dedicated policy on examination of digital devices at ports of entry.

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

  • cell phones
  • smartphones
  • computers
  • tablets
  • removable media
  • drives
  • cameras
  • smartwatches
  • any other device capable of storing digital data

Why your digital device may be examined

Officers will only examine a device if they have reason to believe it contains evidence that border laws have been broken. An officer might examine your digital devices if they have concerns about your identity, goods you are carrying with you, or if they have observed a failure to comply with Canadian laws or regulations. 

What to expect if your digital device is examined

Before examining your device, a CBSA officer will ask you some questions. You will also be asked to provide your password which you are required to provide, otherwise you may be detained and your device may be seized.

When examining your device, the officer should switch it to airplane mode. This will only give them access to data that is stored on the device. CBSA officers will not have access to your bank account, social media, or emails not stored on the device.

If no evidence of an infraction is found, the officer will return your device and you will be allowed to proceed across the border.

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 for some reason the CBSA cannot determine that the device’s content is admissible at the port of entry, they may detain the device for further examination for up to 30 days. The CBSA will contact you to arrange the return of your digital device.

What to do if your device is seized

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

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.

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