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There’s a new bill to stop warantless searches of digital devices at the airport

Warrantless searches of devices have been happening all too frequently.
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American travelers who are inconvenienced by authorities searching their mobile devices and gadgets when crossing US borders might soon be relieved of this experience if a new law is enacted. Some US senators have reintroduced legislation to bar the government from searching people’s electronic devices at the border without a proper warrant.

Senators Ed Marley and Jeff Merkley have recently reintroduced The Protecting Data at the Border Act. The bill is co-sponsored by Representative Ted Lieu who is set to introduce a companion House legislation.

The move could have been brought about by a watchdog report released in December 2018 wherein U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have been found to have conducted unwarranted searches of 29,000 electronic devices such as laptops and mobile phones from 397 million travelers in 2017. This is 50 percent more than the 18,400 electronic devices searched from 390 million travelers in the previous year.

According to the report published by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), these searches were done incorrectly without proper supervision or adherence to preexisting policies and to the inconvenience of travelers. The travelers are either going on vacation or on their way to work.

If enacted into law, government authorities would no longer be able to use the border search exception policy to justify the existing practice of seizing electronic devices of travelers crossing the border. The senators said that the border is quickly becoming a rights-free zone for travelers. They added that authorities shouldn’t be able to review Americans’ whole digital life when traveling for a vacation or for work.

In addition, the senators said that searching electronic devices should require a warrant so that authorities could do their job properly which is to manage security threats from real people and not regular Americans. The bill states that authorities should inform Americans of their rights before they give their consent for the authorities to examine their devices and gather information about their online accounts.

Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union supports the bill by saying that it would help to stop some of the constitutional violations by making clear that the government must get a warrant to search American and urges the Congress to pass the bill.

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