New bipartisan bill seeks to stop warrantless device searches at US borders

After signaling in late February that such legislation was on the way, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill that aims to protect the digital privacy of American citizens at U.S. borders.

While the policy appears unevenly enforced, U.S. citizens have reported an uptick in border agents demanding passwords and searching their devices at American borders. The Trump administration has made it clear that such searches are well within its strategy for “extreme vetting,” even if that vetting jeopardizes¬†the privacy of American citizens.

The straightforwardly named Protecting Data at the Border Act is sponsored by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, the Senate’s preeminent privacy hawk, and Republican Senator Rand Paul, the former Tea Partier often tuned into¬†federal overreach. In the House, the bill is sponsored by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D) and Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold (R).

The bicameral bill would sew up what its sponsors call a “legal Bermuda Triangle,” one that lets law enforcement agents conduct what would otherwise be unconstitutional searches of devices, like laptops and smartphones, that belong to U.S. citizens.

The crux of the bill, embedded in full below, is this:

“United States persons have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the digital contents of their electronic equipment, the digital contents of their online accounts, and the nature of their online presence…

Accessing the digital contents of electronic equipment, accessing the digital contents of an online account, or obtaining information regarding the nature of the online presence of a United States person entering or exiting the United States, without a lawful warrant based on probable cause, is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”