ONE of the more debated issues in recent weeks was the suggestion of United States Homeland Security that visitors to the US might be asked to relinquish their social media passwords, or even unlock their notebook computers or smart phones for inspection before they can be allowed to enter the country.

In fact, it happened to some US citizens who posted what happened. They were asked for their cellphones, asked to unlock it, and their cellphones were brought inside and inspected. Some technical people speculated that the border patrol guards might have downloaded the contents, and will havea pretty good idea about everything you do, which is really what they want to.

It is really true that if somebody just opens your Facebook account or smartphones, it can offer a wealth of detail about a person. It can also reveal contacts, and private messages. In fact, there were articles that said that there are special forensic software companies that do just that – suck all the information from your phone in a matter of minutes, even your passwords. These software companies reportedly have the police forces, military, and detective agencies as their customers. All they need to know almost everything about your communications and profile is an unlocked phone.

People are asking, is it legal? Can I refuse?

Legal people say you can’t. If you are stopped inside America or in the streets, and the police ask you to unlock your phone, you have strong legal grounds to refuse under the Fifth Amendment. But they say the US border or the immigration at the airport is technically not the US, and therefore your rights do not apply.

Luminaries say that it is legal for US customs or Border Patrol Officer to ask you to unlock your phone, and if you refuse, they can detain you or refuse entry, even if you are an American citizen.

The border or immigrations department is legally no man’s land, and technically, most people have very little rights to refuse. They say that this is something many governments may start working on, so make sure your phone does not contain incriminating evidence. It does not matter whether Apple or Android encrypts the data – they will ask you to open the phone or be refused entry.

Governments will say that it will be necessary for security. And just as we have to open up our bags, take off our shoes, and subject everything to inspection in the airport before boarding, there may be more stringent controls that some parts of the world will be thinking about doing soon.