02.27.18

Leahy And Daines Introduce Legislation To Protect Americans’ Privacy At The Border

U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) Tuesday introduced legislation requiring the government to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search or seize Americans’ electronic devices at the border. 

Currently at the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can search through a traveler’s electronic devices without any suspicion at all.  CBP officers can also request that a traveler provide their password or passcode, and seize the device if the traveler refuses. 

The Leahy-Daines bill includes provisions requiring reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search or seize Americans’ electronic devices at the border and forces the government to obtain a warrant before conducting forensic searches of such devices.  It also requires the Department of Homeland Security to collect statistics on these searches and seizures and report them to Congress.

“No American should have to relinquish all of their privacy rights to their cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices, simply because they are coming home from a trip abroad,” said Leahy.  “This legislation is a vital step toward protecting our Fourth Amendment rights, while also ensuring that officers protecting our homeland have the lawful authorities they need to do their jobs.”

“Americans do not lose their Fourth Amendment rights at our borders,” said Daines. “This bipartisan bill better protects Americans’ civil liberties while also allowing border security to do their job and keep our country safe,” said Daines.

The full text of the legislation is available here.

Senator Leahy’s statement in the Congressional Record follows:

 

 

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
On Introduction of Legislation on Searches and Seizures of Electronic Devices at the Border

February 27, 2018

No American should have to relinquish all of their privacy rights in their cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices, simply because they are coming home from a trip abroad.  Yet that is exactly how our Government views it: currently, if a Vermonter crosses the border into Canada for a day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can search through the Vermonter’s emails, text messages, photos, and anything else contained in their electronic devices without any reason to suspect the person is in violation of anything.  Let me repeat that: without any suspicion at all.  That is unacceptable. 

That is why I am joining with Senator Daines to introduce legislation to require the Government to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search or seize Americans’ electronic devices at the border.  This legislation is a vital step toward protecting our Fourth Amendment rights, while also ensuring that officers protecting our homeland have the lawful authorities they need to do their jobs. 

Last year, CBP searched the electronic devices of over 30,000 travelers, and this number continues to grow.  These searches can take place at any international airport, or at any land border point such as U.S.-Canada border crossings in my home state of Vermont or Senator Daines’s home state of Montana.

Nothing in this legislation will prevent CBP officers from doing their jobs to protect the homeland, detect contraband, and enforce the law.  Our legislation simply says that if an officer of the Government wants to search an American’s electronic device at the border, at a minimum they should have reasonable suspicion.  If they want to seize the device, they should have probable cause.  And if they want to conduct a forensic examination of the device, they should get a warrant from a judge.

 Our legislation also requires the Department of Homeland Security to collect statistics on such searches and seizures and report them to Congress.  This will significantly increase transparency on the Government’s use of these invasive tools, providing Congress and the American people an opportunity to assess the balance between the needs of law enforcement and the imperative of protecting privacy and civil liberties.

I urge other Senators to join us in support of this legislation.  It should not be controversial to be concerned at the Government’s ability to search our electronic devices at the border without any suspicion at all.  All of us – Republican and Democrat – can support the goal of protecting our borders while also protecting the Fourth Amendment.

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