Four lawmakers — two from the Senate and two from the House of Representatives — introduced a bill April 4 aimed at protecting users' digital privacy.
The bill — put forward by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.; and Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas — would require government agents to obtain a warrant before searching the data of a "U.S. person." It would also prohibit government officials from delaying or denying people entry into the U.S. if they decline to hand over their passwords, PINs and social media account information.
"The government should not have the right to access your personal electronic devices without probable cause," Polis said, adding that these protections should be in place whether a person was at home, walking down the street or at the border.
"We must make it perfectly clear that our Fourth Amendment protections extend regardless of location," Polis added. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures and requires probable cause for the issue of a warrant.
According to the lawmakers, the bill comes in reaction to reports that law enforcement agencies are increasingly searching U.S. citizens' phones and laptops when they cross the border without suspicion or a warrant.
Following the introduction of the bill, the new media nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology expressed its support, with CDT's director of the freedom, security, and technology project, Gregory Nojeim saying in a statement: "A border stop shouldn't be an excuse for extreme surveillance such as downloading the entire contents of your phone. This bill would ensure that the government demonstrates a good reason for searches at the border, and that a judge agrees."
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly previously told Congress that people who visit the U.S. might be required to hand over their social media passwords before entering the country. According to NBC News, Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee. "If they don't want to cooperate, then you don't come in."