New Bill Would Require Agents to Actually Have Probable Cause to Search Electronic Devices at the Border

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Customs officials at the border don’t need a warrant or probable cause to search your electronic devices, an invasive practice that has only spiked in the last few years, resulting in a bunch of horror stories and some profoundly dumb screwups. But two US senators want to change that, introducing a bill on Wednesday that would create a more consensual and reasonable system.

Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Rand Paul introduced the Protecting Data at the Border Act which would require border agents to either have a warrant or written consent in order to access the digital contents of someone entering or leaving the United States.

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“The border is quickly becoming a rights-free zone for Americans who travel,” Wyden said in a statement, CNET reported. “The government shouldn’t be able to review your whole digital life simply because you went on vacation, or had to travel for work.”

Customs and Border Protection agents are currently able to search through the contents of someone’s phone, computer, or tablet as well as transfer the data from these devices to Department of Homeland Security servers without the need for a warrant. These agents conducted 30,200 of these searches in 2017, a 58.5 percent increase from 2016. And that number increased to 33,000 searches last year, according to CNET.

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This bill would serve as a pretty basic protection for people traveling in and out of the country, and based on the aforementioned statistics, one that would ensure that tens of thousands of people a year are afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy. And based on a report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) last year, when officials do collect the personal data of those traveling, they’re pretty reckless when it comes to making sure they delete the data that is no longer needed. The Protecting Data at the Border Act would help weed out any unnecessary seizures of information and the subsequent risk of that information getting into the wrong hands.

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Melanie Ehrenkranz

Reporter at Gizmodo

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