Bill would end searches of electronic devices for U.S. citizens returning from travel abroad

Can the feds search your phone at the border?

Privacy rights have been eroded in the endless war on terror

Staff Report

Colorado Congressman Jared Polis (D-Boulder) wants to limit the U.S. government’s ability to search your electronic devices when you return from overseas travel. A new bill Polis introduced this week, the Protecting Data at the Border Act, would make it harder for federal agents to seize and search your laptop, smartphone or tablet.

The legislation was introduced jointly on April 4, as H.R. 1899 in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO2) and S. 823 in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Specifically, it would prevent customs officials at the border  from searching anybody’s digital device without a warrant. Privacy and civil rights advocates have long argued that warrantless searches of devices at the border are illegal.

“Until the 21st century, the border search exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement was limited to the items travelers could carry with them when crossing the international border. The ‘amount of private information carried by international travelers was traditionally circumscribed by the size of the traveler’s luggage or automobile,’” the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in an amicus brief in a lawsuit on such searches.

Federal officials have said, with no evidence, that such searches help fight terrorism. The bill faces a tough uphill battle in Congress, where the fight against terrorism seems to justify nearly anything.

According to GovTrack.us, the House bill has attracted 12 cosponsors, 11 Democrats plus Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX27), and awaits a vote in the House Homeland Security Committee. The Senate bill has attracted two bipartisan cosponsors, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ed Markey (D-MA). It awaits a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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