- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bipartisan legislation introduced Tuesday in the House and Senate would address a recent uptick in cellphones being searched at the border by requiring Customs agents to obtain a warrant before scouring the digital devices of Americans attempting to reenter the country.

Currently U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents can ask individuals to surrender their cellphones to be scrutinized at or near the nation’s border absent a warrant, seemingly skirting the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful searches and seizures.

The Protecting Data at the Border Act would take aim at the constitutional concerns raised for years by existing policy and require Customs agents to get an actual court order before requesting access to an American’s cellphone, in addition to ensuring individuals are properly notified of their legal rights before being asked to disclose any personal information involving their online identities, including usernames and passwords, the bill’s authors said.

“Americans’ Constitutional rights shouldn’t disappear at the border,” co-author Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said in 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.”

Mr. Wyden introduced the Protecting Data at the Border Act in the Senate alongside Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican. Democratic Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado and Adam Smith of Washington offered a companion bill in the House alongside Rep. Blake Farenthold, Texas Republican.

“Just because you cross the border doesn’t mean the government has a right to everything on your computer,” Mr. Farenthold agreed.

“As the Supreme Court unanimously recognized in 2014, innovation does not render the Fourth Amendment obsolete,” Mr. Paul added. “It still stands today as a shield between the American people and a government all too eager to invade their digital lives. Americans should not be asked to surrender their rights or privacy at the border, and our bill will put an end to the government’s intrusive practices.”

While privacy advocates have argued for years against the CBP’s controversial cellphone seizures, recent media reports have rekindled concerns long raised by the civil liberties proponents and other activists.

Mr. Wyden alluded to those reports in a February letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly seeking details concerning how the CBP conducts border, including specifically how often the agency compels travelers for access to their devices, and under what legal authority.

The Department of Homeland Security failed to respond to the senator’s request in time to meet a March 29 deadline, according to Mr. Wyden’s office.

The CBP has since acknowledged conducting 23,877 “electronic media searches” during fiscal 2016, however, or more than five times the number of searches conducted the year before.

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