When Americans cross the border into the U.S., law enforcement officials have the right to search their phones, computers, and other devices — all without a warrant.
A new piece of bipartisan legislation in the House and the Senate aims to close the legal loopholes that give authorities this kind of power. The “Protecting Data at the Border Act” was introduced Tuesday by Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Rand Paul in the Senate, and Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Blake Farenthold in the House.
“The government should not have the right to access your personal electronic devices without probable cause,” Rep. Polis said in a joint press release. “Whether you are at home, walking down the street, or at the border, we must make it perfectly clear that our Fourth Amendment protections extend regardless of location.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that police are required to get a warrant from a judge before searching any individual’s phone, but searches of digital devices belonging to American citizens at the border have risen dramatically in the last few years.
NBC News reported in January that the number of such searches conducted by the Department of Homeland Security spiked from 5,000 in 2015 to over 25,000 in 2016, prompting Sen. Wyden to send a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly demanding an explanation.
According to Sen. Wyden, DHS and Secretary Kelly have yet to reply to his request. A representative for DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.