Enlarge / Pedestrians crossing the northbound US border from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Ysidro, California. People crossing the border are subject to having their electronics searched by US authorities. No warrant is needed. (credit: Punxsutawneyphil)
There’s a big area in the US where the Constitution doesn’t apply, at least when the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is concerned.
It’s called the US border, or port of entry.
In that area, you and your electronic devices, whether you’re coming or going to the US, can be searched without reason. You even can be forced to unlock or decrypt a device so the authorities can comb through your life, like your social media accounts, cloud accounts, you name it.
This intrusion is known as the “border search exception” to the Fourth Amendment.
This invasive practice is on the rise, too.
Consider that the Department of Homeland Security said it searched fewer than 5,000 mobile phones at the border without a warrant in 2015.
The number mushroomed to 25,000 last year.
And for the month of February, the DHS reports that it has already searched 5,000 devices of Americans and foreigners without a warrant at a border crossing.
Now, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is proposing the unthinkable. Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday floated legislation requiring US Customs and Border Protection agents to get a court warrant to search electronic devices.
That’s right—in an era when you can be accused of publishing fake news for even questioning the government, a few members of Congress want to expand your civil rights and require a judge to sign off on a device search.
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