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US Senator Preparing Bill That Would Require Border Phone Searches To Have A Warrant

US Senator Preparing Bill That Would Require Border Phone Searches To Have A Warrant


The instances of border phone searches are increasing. As a matter of fact, Homeland Security has disclosed that such searches conducted by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has grown from less than 5,000 in the entirety of the year 2015, to 5,000 in the last month alone. For those who think this trend is getting out of hand, there may be some bit of good news.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is now readying a bill that would require agents of the CBP to present a warrant whenever they search a mobile device owned by a United States citizen entering or leaving the country. On top of that, the bill would expressly forbid border officials from asking the mobile device owners for the password to unlock their handset. 

To be clear about it, since this bill has not been passed yet, the border phone searches that are happening now are still completely within the law. Sure, the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution typically provides security against searches on mobile devices done without warrants, but this does not cover border crossings within a hundred miles. CBP agents even have the legal power to confiscate handsets for five days without providing a particular reason. 

But once Senator Wyden’s bill gets passed, it would at least grant some protection for those who feel like their privacy has been violated whenever their mobile devices are searched without any warrant. Interestingly, the CBP’s policy has not been updated since around eight years ago, a time when smartphones were just about to become mainstream devices and people were not as protective of their personal information compared to today.

But it bears noting that it is also quite possible that the bill will not get passed at all. There is a reason for the increase in border phone searches -- because of a number of domestic incidents that have occurred, the US government is now more adamant than ever in catching the criminals before they do anything bad. And the recent immigration policy from the White House has given added justification to the CBP to ramp up their border phone search efforts. 

News of Wyden’s proposed bill first came to last month, when the US Senator sent a letter to John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, demanding an explanation for the border phone searches. At that time, he expressed his intention to draft a bill, stating these searches are potentially violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.