You probably shouldn't let people dig through your phone, whether it's a government worker, or a nosy potential employer at a weird job interview where you've been put on the spot. In fact, even the Patriots haters out there kind of understand why Tom Brady smashed his with a hammer when Roger Goodell wanted to scroll through it.
You have a right to privacy.
With all that in mind, Business Insider did a long write-up on Wednesday that loaned some advice to their readers about how to keep Customs and Border agents from scrolling through their phone upon attempted entry into the U.S. The write-up came about after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that is attempting to prevent federal agents from flipping through the electronic devices (including phones and computers) of citizens and visitors without a warrant. This lawsuit is also seeking to make them delete information that they've stored from this method.
As BI points out, the US Customs and Border Protection provides a tearsheet to people at the border telling them that they can search, seize, and even make a copy of your phone so forensic experts can analyze it off site. The ACLU and EFF struck up their litigation against the US Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 11 people who had had phones and laptops seized while trying to enter the country.
When it comes down to the raw numbers, CBP data from April shows that their agents glanced through the devices of 8,500 travelers in 2015 (note that this was out of 391 million people going through airports), 19,000 travelers in 2016, and are on pace for nearly 30,000 in 2017.
CBP, naturally, says they go through these procedures to protect the populace.
"Electronic device searches are integral in some cases to determining an individual's intentions upon entering the United States," said deputy executive assistant commissioner for CBP's Office of Field Operations, John Wagner, in a press release that also came out this past April. "These searches, which affect fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of international travelers, have contributed to national security investigations, arrests for child pornography and evidence of human trafficking."
Still, if you're just a normal person, and would prefer not to be traveler No. 8,501, 19,001, or 30,000+ (plus one) to have their stuff rifled through, BI provided information on how you can avoid it.
According to Nathan Free Wessler, a staff attorney from the ACLU who spoke to BI, you should only travel with data that's essential to your trip. Frankly, that sounds a bit extreme. People can't walk to their mailbox or go to the bathroom without their phone, but that's what he suggests. In lieu of your normal phone or computer, he suggests carrying a burner version of either.
I wouldn't anticipate a lot of people going that route, but as he points out, what you don't have can't be searched.
He also suggests using encryption services, which can be found here (via the EFF) or here (via Wired). Finally, he says you should shut your device off when you go through customs, because that is "when the encryption services are at their strongest."
Though it's not entirely empirical, this cross-section of plaintiffs would suggest your odds are higher if you're a person of color or Muslim. If all of this is something that concerns you (which is possible, given that you either clicked here because you are interested, or you clicked here because you're bored as hell and you'll click anything), you can read the rest over at Business Insider.