Legislation to stop U.S. border agents from demanding passwords and logins is on the way

Privacy advocates aren’t happy with proposals for enhanced digital prying at U.S. borders, and now that issue could be taken up in the Senate.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden called for accountability around reports that U.S. Customs and Border agents are obtaining the passwords to locked devices that belong to detainees at the border. Invoking the Fourth Amendment, Wyden dismissed such practices as extralegal, lacking probable cause and a warrant required for such searches.

“There are well-established legal rules governing how law enforcement agencies may obtain data from social media companies and email providers,” Wyden wrote. “The process typically requires that the government obtain a search warrant or other court order, and then ask the service provider to turn over the user’s data.”

Wyden argues that border agents directly requesting login credentials are circumventing this system of checks and balances, violating the rights of American citizens in the process. Beyond the privacy implications, Wyden suggests that these aggressive policies could also discourage international business travel and distract U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from its core mission with broad “digital dragnet” border searches.

The senator’s forthcoming legislation will require border agents to secure a warrant to search any device, as well as forbidding law enforcement from pressuring travelers to give up their social media account credentials. The letter also demands that the Department of Homeland Security report all incidents of officials obtaining access to secured devices or social media accounts at the border.