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Wyden Demands Answers on Questionable Phone Searches at Border

In yet another sign of what our country is becoming under the Trump regime, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has sent a letter to Homeland Security chief John Kelly demanding to know why Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have been ordering some people to unlock their cell phones for examination.

Wyden also cited a recent statement by Kelly saying that people visiting the U.S. may be asked to give security officers their social-media passwords so agents can examine their usage of applications like Facebook and Twitter.

“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month. “If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”

While Kelly’s comments before that committee were in the context of what will likely happen in the future as immigrants are vetted for admission to the U.S., reports are surfacing that people are already being subject to these searches upon entering the country.

In January, Sidd Bikkannavar, who was born in the U.S. and is an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was detained on reentering the country after a vacation in Chile and asked to give CBP agents the password to his phone. Bikkannavar complied but remains concerned because the phone was issued by NASA, contained sensitive information and he has no idea what agents gleaned from their search.

“I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating,” says Bikkannavar. “I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it.”

In his letter, Wyden challenged Kelly to answer five specific questions, including the following:

What legal authority permits CBP to ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person disclose their social media or email account password?

What legal authority permits CBP to ask for or demand, as a condition of entry, that a U.S. person turn over their device PIN or password to gain access to encrypted data? How are such demands consistent with the Fifth Amendment?

Wyden also told the Homeland Security Secretary that he intends to introduce legislation to “… guarantee that the Fourth Amendment is respected at the border by requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before searching devices, and prohibiting the practice of forcing travelers to reveal their online account passwords.”

“These digital dragnet border search practices weaken our national and economic security. Indiscriminate digital searches distract CBP from its core mission and needlessly divert agency resources away from those who truly threaten our nation.”

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