As it stands, customs officials at the border don’t require a warrant or even probable cause to search your electronic devices. This, as you can probably imagine, has led to more than a few incidents where things have gone south. Two U.S. senators have now introduced a bill which would make the entire system more reasonable by mandating that border agents have probable cause to search the device.
Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Rand Paul are behind the Protecting Data at the Border Act. It will mandate that border agents have either a warrant or written consent if they want to get access to the electronic devices of someone entering or leaving the United States.
“The government shouldn’t be able to review your whole digital life simply because you went on vacation, or had to travel for work,” Wyden said, adding that the border is rapidly becoming a “rights-free zone” for Americans who travel abroad.
In the current system, Customs and Border Protection agents can not only search the contents of someone’s phone, PC, and tablet but also transfer their data to Department of Homeland Security servers without a warrant. The agents conducted 33,000 of such searches in 2018.
The person has no say in how their data is treated once it’s transferred and there have been reports about agents being reckless about deleting collected data that’s no longer required. The bill would thus extend viable protection for travelers who already have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to the data on their personal electronic devices.