A new bill will now require Customs and Border Patrol officers to present warrants before conducting phone searches to US citizen travelers. This also solves the Constitution's loophole that's allowed CBP to collect intelligence in what many have criticized as an invasion of privacy.
The new bill mandates CBP to present reasonable suspicion before conducting even "manual searches" through the traveling citizens' smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices. It also empowers the citizens to refuse to share their passwords without the threat of being barred from entry at the border. The four lawmakers who introduced the new legislation are Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul and Representatives Jared Polis and Blake Farenthold.
Sen. Wyden told BuzzFeed News in a statement that the new bill forces border agents to focus on criminals and terrorists instead of wasting their time on the "innocent Americans' personal photos and other data." Rep. Polis considered the bill "overdue" as he asserted that the Fourth Amendment protections should "extend regardless of location."
Mary Ellen Callahan, Department of Homeland Security's former chief privacy officer and the one who wrote the CBP guidelines on conducting electronic searches in 2009, told NBC News that The Fourth Amendment "doesn't apply at the border." This allowed CBP to legally conduct electronic searches to those within 100 miles of border entry. They can also just take away the devices from their owners with no need to provide any justification and even keep them for five days.
DHS officials warned that the number of phone searches by border agents will explode this year after the recent trend. They reported at least 5,000 in 2015, almost 25,000 last year and 5,000 in February alone. Many of the American citizens searched through at the borders happened to be Muslims. Sen. Wyden slammed the electronic searches as a "digital dragnet" and a government "overreach."