Lawmakers introduce bill to limit data collection at border crossings

October 7, 2021
In The News

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation Thursday that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before searching Americans’ phones and laptops at the border.

The Protect Data at the Border Act would apply Supreme Court precedent requiring probable cause to search electronic devices after arrests to border crossings. 

The government has claimed an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s broad warrant requirement for activities at the border despite a lack of statutory clarity on the matter.  

“Traveling near the border shouldn’t give the government a free pass to throw out our rights and thumb through our phones without any suspicion of wrongdoing,” Wyden said in a statement. 

“The Fourth Amendment is more important than ever in the digital age, and as the Supreme Court recognized in 2014, smart phones and digital devices are shielded from unreasonable searches,” Paul said, referring to the Riley v. California case about arrests. 

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are also co-sponsoring the Senate bill. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) plans to introduce accompanying legislation in the House.

The bill would also block officials from denying any American citizen’s entry into the country for refusing to turn over digital devices or passwords to access them. 

The government would be able to get warrants after the fact under emergency circumstances.

Americans traveling back into the country currently have minimal protection against border officials accessing their sensitive information stored on phones or computers without probable cause.

“This happens to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, tourists, and business travelers,” Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “We urge Congress to pass this bill.”