Lawmakers Push For Warrants On Electronics Searches At The Border

Lawmakers Push For Warrants On Electronics Searches At The Border
U.S. border agents currently have wide latitude to search through anyone's electronic devices. A group of legislators wants to change that.

U.S. border agents have pretty broad authority to comb through the belongings of anyone entering the U.S. — even citizens. That includes searching through phone and computer data.

And those agents can get pretty insistent about it.

Akram Shibly, a U.S. citizen whose phone was seized on the Canadian border, described the encounter to NBC: "One officer grabbed me from behind, grabs me by the throat. Another officer comes in front of me, grabs me by the legs. A third officer reaches into my pockets and pulls out my cellphone."

Some U.S. congressmen say those searches go too far. They want the government to get a warrant before it searches anyone's electronic devices.

Their new bill would require border agents to get a court's permission before accessing anyone's device, except in emergencies. It would also prevent agents from compelling people to hand over their passwords or account information.

Sen. Ron Wyden said the bill "makes sure that border agents are focused on criminals and terrorists instead of wasting their time thumbing through innocent Americans' personal photos and other data."

There were almost 24,000 searches of electronic devices at the border last year, five times as many as there were in 2015.