Filed Under: Politics

US senator says border officials store cell phone data from American travelers

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A U.S. senator is accusing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of storing cell phone data from people they intercept at the border. Every year, thousands of Americans have their phones and other devices searched at the border before they travel abroad. The senator said CBP downloads contents off of a person’s phone – which can include text messages, pictures and other personal information – into a massive database where it is all held for 15 years. That database is accessible to thousands of Department of Homeland Security employees.

Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, said the allegations violate Americans’ rights during warrantless searches of phones and other electronic devices and called for immediate reforms. Wyden described the procedures as “egregious violations.”

“Innocent Americans should not be tricked into unlocking their phones and laptops,” Wyden wrote to the CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus. “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.”

CBP spokesman Lawrence “Rusty” Payne said in a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday that the agency conducts “border searches of electronic devices in accordance with statutory and regulatory authorities” and has imposed rules to ensure the searches and storage of phone data are “exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust.”

Wyden is the author of 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. Wyden asked the CBP to write back to him by Oct. 31.

A U.S. senator is accusing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of storing cell phone data from people they intercept at the border. Every year, thousands of Americans have their phones and other devices searched at the border before they travel abroad. The senator said CBP downloads contents off of a person’s phone – which can include text messages, pictures and other personal information – into a massive database where it is all held for 15 years. That database is accessible to thousands of Department of Homeland Security employees.

Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, said the allegations violate Americans’ rights during warrantless searches of phones and other electronic devices and called for immediate reforms. Wyden described the procedures as “egregious violations.”

“Innocent Americans should not be tricked into unlocking their phones and laptops,” Wyden wrote to the CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus. “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.”

CBP spokesman Lawrence “Rusty” Payne said in a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday that the agency conducts “border searches of electronic devices in accordance with statutory and regulatory authorities” and has imposed rules to ensure the searches and storage of phone data are “exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust.”

Wyden is the author of 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. Wyden asked the CBP to write back to him by Oct. 31.

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