Bill would require a warrant to search devices at the border

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A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers introduced Tuesday a bill that would require law enforcement to get probable cause warrants before searching Americans’ digital devices at the border.

The Protecting Data at the Border Act — introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas — would also bar officials from delaying or denying someone’s entry to or exit from the U.S. if the person declined to give their login information.

“Americans’ constitutional rights shouldn’t disappear at the border,” Wyden said in a statement. “By requiring a warrant to search Americans’ devices and prohibiting unreasonable delay, this bill makes sure that border agents are focused on criminals and terrorists instead of wasting their time thumbing through innocent Americans’ personal photos and other data.”

The bill follows media reports that U.S. citizens have been asked to turn over passwords or devices at the border.

The Center for Democracy & Technology said in a statement Tuesday that it supports the new bill.

“A search of your cell phone or social media account is a direct look behind the curtain that covers the most intimate aspects of your life. A border stop shouldn’t be an excuse for extreme surveillance such as downloading the entire contents of your phone. This bill would ensure that the government demonstrates a good reason for searches at the border, and that a judge agrees,” said Greg Nojeim, CDT director of the Freedom, Security, and Technology Project in a statement.

The bill also requires citizens be made aware of their rights before consenting to give up account information, such as passwords, or device access, according to the bill’s summary.

“This bill is overdue, and I am glad we can come together in a bicameral, bipartisan manner to ensure that Customs and Border Patrol agents don’t continue to violate essential privacy safeguards,” Polis said in a statement.

There is already a standing order, created under President Barack Obama, that asks visitors to volunteer information about their web and social media presence, but stops short of asking for access to a device or account.

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Blake Farenthold, border security, Congress, Customs and Border Patrol, Jared Polis, privacy, Rand Paul, Ron Wyden
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