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Congress: Get a Warrant to Search Americans' Phones at Border

The Trump administration wants to expand electronic searches at the border. Congress wants to make sure Americans aren't swept up in those searches without a warrant.

This story originally appeared on PCMag

Foreigners who want to visit the U.S. may be required to offer border agents access to their social media accounts and electronic devices under an expansion of border security rules the Trump administration announced on Tuesday. Congress, however, wants to make sure Americans aren't swept up in those searches without a warrant.

Trump's planned searches appear to be directed at foreigners. But a bill that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and his colleagues introduced on Tuesday afternoon would require a warrant to search U.S. citizens' electronic devices at the border. Such searches are relatively uncommon, but are legal even without a warrant under current law, which Wyden described in a statement as "a legal Bermuda Triangle that currently allows law enforcement agencies to search Americans' phones and laptops -- including pictures, email and anything on the device and possibly the cloud."


Wyden's bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), while its House counterpart was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).

"The government should not have the right to access your personal electronic devices without probable cause," Polis said in a statement. "Whether you are at home, walking down the street or at the border, we must make it perfectly clear that our Fourth Amendment protections extend regardless of location."

It's unclear whether the bill would apply to foreigners who are applying for a visa or permit to visit the U.S. before they reach the border. The Trump administration's new security rules would require visa applicants to offer up their devices during the application process, something that isn't currently required, The Wall Street Journal reports. Officials would also ask applicants for their social media passwords.

The goal is to "figure out who you are communicating with," the Journal quoted an unnamed senior DHS official as saying. "What you can get on the average person's phone can be invaluable."

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Tom is PCMag's San Francisco-based news reporter.