Can agents force you to turn over social media passwords?
No. But those who unlock their phones are most likely giving agents full access to their social media accounts, even if they don’t tell them the passwords.
Since most people remain logged into their accounts on their phones, unlocking the phone would allow officers to sift through private Facebook posts, direct messages on Twitter and Instagram photos that are set to be accessible to friends only.
Mr. Elsharkawi did not give agents his social media passwords. But when he allowed an officer to look through his phone, he said, she commented on his emails and apps. He doesn’t know if she looked through his social media accounts, he added.
Some activists fear gaining access to social media accounts will become a greater focus for border agents. Last week, John F. Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary, said officials were considering a policy that would allow agents to ask refugees and immigrants for their social media login information. The Obama administration considered a similar move but never put it into effect.
While that policy would not apply to citizens, Ms. Cope said, it would be “a very small step for them to start doing that to Americans, as well.”