Senate and House Legislators Introduce Bill Mandating Warrants for Device Searches by Border Agents

Posted on April 5, 2017

Following a statement announcing his intention to pursue legislation to close a glaring loophole in Fourth Amendment protections during border crossings, Senator Ron Wyden has formally introduced legislation aimed at more tightly regulating searches of electronics conducted by CBP agents and other border personnel. The bill, known as the “Protecting Data at the Border Act,” is currently cosponsored by Republican Senator Rand Paul, as well as by Democratic Representative Jared Polis and Republican Representative Blake Farenthold in the House.

The bill would close the exception to the Fourth Amendment reserved for border areas and ports of entry by explicitly requiring that searches of electronic devices belonging to US citizens be conducted only in accordance with a court-issued search warrant, making such searches consistent with normal domestic search orders targeting devices. Additionally, the proposed measure would prohibit CBP officials from barring a US citizen entry into the country on the basis of refusal to comply with a search of an electronic device in their possession. While it would not extend protections to non-citizens, the bill hopes to curb the sharp rise in the number of CBP searches of smartphones, laptops, and other electronics so far this year by ensuring that constitutional safeguards are extended consistently throughout law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide.

The recent push by Senator Wyden and his Senate and House colleagues represents one of the more notable efforts to address a severe shortcoming in the application of Fourth Amendment protections, not only by nature of its bipartisan support, but stemming from its express and concerted aim at holding CBP and DHS officials to the standards of Fourth Amendment principles. Though its prospects on the floor of both congressional houses remain to be seen, the move by Senator Wyden and his allies does a great deal to underscore the importance of the issue in public discourse and slowly shift government policy toward more robust safeguards on constitutional rights. 

You can find the full story from The Intercept here.