Lawmakers propose bipartisan bill barring custom agents from searching phones without a warrant
A US customs service IT glitch has left thousands of airline passengers waiting for clearance to enter the country (AFP Photo/JOE RAEDLE)

A news bipartisan bill would require border agents to obtain a warrant before searching a U.S. person’s phones, following growing concern over the invasive nature of customs practices.


The bill, Protecting Data at the Border Act, is backed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rob Wygden (D-OR) and Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Jared Polis (D-CO). It would prohibit U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents from requiring passwords to search the digital devices of Americans seeking entry in the U.S. without a warrant, and would also require Americans be made aware of their rights before handing over passwords to digital accounts.

“Americans’ Constitutional rights shouldn’t disappear at the border,” Wyden said in a statement to BuzzFeed. “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 would only apply to citizens or permanent residents of the U.S., meaning it would have no impact on a set of rules reportedly being mulled over by the Donald Trump administration, which could include a set or rules requiring foreign travelers share contacts on their mobile phones, social media and email passwords and give customs agents access to their financial records.

Sill, border agents would not be able to access a U.S. resident’s “electronic equipment” without probable cause or deny entry to persons refusing to provide that information.

Greg Nojeim, the senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the civil liberties organization supports the bill. “A border stop shouldn’t be an excuse for extreme surveillance such as downloading the entire contents of your phone,” Nojeim told Reuters.