September 15, 2022

Wyden Reveals New Details About U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s ‘Egregious Violations’ of Americans’ Rights During Warrantless Electronic Device Searches

In Letter to CBP, Wyden Reveals That Phones Searched At the Border Are Downloaded Into A Central Database, Where Information Can be Viewed for 15 Years By Thousands of Agents; Americans Are Not Fully Informed of Their Rights Before Device Searches

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today revealed new details about how U.S. Customs and Border Protection violates Americans’ rights during warrantless searches of phones and other electronic devices, and called for immediate reforms. 

Wyden recently learned that when thousands of Americans’ phones are searched at the border every year, their contents are downloaded into a central database, where information is held for 15 years and can be accessed by roughly 2,700 Department of Homeland Security employees, he wrote in a letter to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus. Worse, these devices are searched without warrants, and travelers are often not informed of their rights before their phones are searched. 

Calling these procedures “egregious violations” of Americans’ rights, Wyden demanded immediate reforms to searches at the border. 

“Innocent Americans should not be tricked into unlocking their phones and laptops,” Wyden wrote. “CBP should not dump data obtained through thousands of warrantless phone searches into a central database, retain the data for fifteen years, and allow thousands of DHS employees to search through Americans’ personal data whenever they want.”

Sensitive information, including text messages, call logs, contact lists, and in some cases, photos and other private records are stored in the CBP database, CBP officials told Wyden’s office. Despite the sensitive nature of these records, government personnel searching the data are not asked to record the purpose of the search, which is an important safeguard against abuse, Wyden wrote. CBP did not provide Wyden’s office with statistics on the total number of Americans whose data has been stored in this database or how frequently the database is searched by government personnel.

Wyden has led efforts to protect Americans’ rights and privacy, both from unnecessary government surveillance and from unscrupulous corporations. He is the author of the bipartisan Protecting Data at the Border Act, which would require probable cause to search Americans’ devices at the border, as would be required for searches anywhere else in the country.

Read the full letter here.

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