U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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Polis introduces bill that requires warrants to search Americans’ digital devices at the border

Bill ends policy that allows unlimited searches of phones, laptops and other devices when Americans cross the border

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Washington, April 4, 2017 | comments

Washington:  Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. -- along with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas -- introduced the Protecting Data at the Border Act, a bill to ensure Americans are not forced to endure indiscriminate and suspicionless searches of their phones, laptops and other digital devices just to cross the border.

The bipartisan, bicameral bill shuts down a legal “Bermuda Triangle” that currently allows law enforcement agencies to search Americans’ phones and laptops – including pictures, email, and anything on the device and possibly the cloud – when they cross the border without suspicion or a warrant. Press reports indicate these searches have spiked over the past year.

“The government should not have the right to access your personal electronic devices without probable cause,” Rep. Polis said. “Whether you are at home, walking down the street, or at the border, we must make it perfectly clear that our Fourth Amendment protections extend regardless of location. This bill is overdue, and I am glad we can come together in a bicameral, bipartisan manner to ensure that Customs and Border Patrol agents don’t continue to violate essential privacy safeguards.”

The government has asserted broad authority to search or seize digital devices at the border without any level of suspicion due to legal precedent referred to as the “border search exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for probable cause or a warrant. Until 2014, government claimed it did not need a warrant to search a device if a person had been arrested. In a landmark unanimous decision, the Supreme Court (in Riley v. California) ruled that digital data is different and that law enforcement needed a warrant to search an electronic device when a person has been arrested.

This bill recognizes the principles from that decision extend to searches of digital devices at the border. In addition, this bill requires that U.S. persons know their rights before they consent to giving up online account information (like social media account names or passwords) or before they consent to give law enforcement access to their devices.

Read the full bill here, and a summary here.

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