Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Stop Warrantless Cell Phone Searches at the Border

(ANTIMEDIA) In the waning years of the Obama administration, Customs and Border Protection agents had a bad habit of conducting warrantless searches of cellphones and laptops. Documents released to the American Civil Liberties Union under Freedom of Information Act requests revealed that Border Patrol agents searched over 6,500 people from October 2008 to June 2010. Though we are less than 100 days into the Trump Era, the focus on immigration raids and deportation seems to have contributed to an atmosphere of police state measures.

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In early March, NBC News highlighted the rise in violations of basic rights, including an increase from 5,000 warrantless searches in 2015 to 25,000 in 2016. This data from the Department of Homeland Security also shows that an astonishing 5,000 people were searched along the border in February 2017. In response to these searches, four members of Congress have introduced legislation that would require border agents to get a warrant before performing a search of someone’s cell phone, laptop, or tablet. The bill was simultaneously introduced by Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Jared Polis and Blake Farenthold. If the measure becomes law, it will require border agents to have probable cause and a warrant before accessing the contents of a device belonging to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The bill also makes it clear that agents cannot hold individuals for more than four hours in an attempt to force them to unlock their devices.

If the bill is passed it would effectively prohibit CBP from doing what it does now, which is searching and seizing devices of U.S. persons,” Neema Singh Giuliani, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Intercept.

Senator Wyden has often criticized invasive surveillance and violations of Fourth Amendment protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. In February, Wyden sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security seeking information on CBP searches. The Customs and Border Protection believes they have the right to search without warrants as part of their mission to secure the border. The CBP notifies the public of this belief in their tearsheet, which acknowledges that federal agents can search phones and make copies for forensic analysis. The CBP searches are backed by Supreme Court rulings that found people crossing the border have fewer protections under the Fourth Amendment. The court has not specifically ruled on whether or not cell phones are subject to force, although they have ruled that warrantless searches of phones are illegal inside the country.

Searches of people at the border is an area where there’s a wide gap between what we think people’s rights are and what their facts are on the ground,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told Business Insider. “Various courts haven’t had an opportunity to weigh in on these issues yet, so CBP is operating with a lot of claimed authority and a lot of latitude.”

Until the Supreme Court weighs in, Border Patrol agents will continue to search electronic devices by the thousands. In fact, federal agents along the borders of the United States violate constitutional rights so often that it has come to be known as a “Constitution-Free Zone.” Earlier this year, it was reported that the White House is exploring the possibility of scanning the social media accounts of all incoming visitors to the United States. President Trump’s rhetoric and ramping up of police state measures in the name of fighting illegal immigration has set the tone for policing along the border. The new bill could potentially slow down the march towards a totalitarian border, but ultimately, it will take the people standing up — together — to fight against tyranny. We should be wary of those who attempt to sell security at the cost of liberty.

President Trump’s rhetoric and ramping up of police state measures in the name of fighting illegal immigration has set the tone for policing along the border. The new bill could potentially slow down the march towards a totalitarian border, but ultimately, it will take the people standing up — together — to fight against tyranny. We should be wary of those who attempt to sell security at the cost of liberty.

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