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Lawmakers want border agents to get a warrant before searching your smartphone

A new effort by Sen. Ron Wyden comes as such border searches are on the rise.

Senate Lawmakers Address The Media After Their Weekly Party Luncheons Justin Sullivan / Getty

Federal agents increasingly appear to be searching some Americans' smartphones as they cross the border — and a quartet of powerful congressional lawmakers want to impose new checks on that practice.

Currently, the government doesn't have to obtain a warrant before it asks even American travelers to provide a look at their personal devices, including their laptops, at airport terminals or border crossings. A new bill released Tuesday by Sen. Ron Wyden and his allies, however, would require a warrant or suspicion of a crime — an effort, they say, that’s meant to safeguard Americans’ privacy while focusing the government on targets that pose actual threats.

“By requiring a warrant to search Americans’ devices and prohibiting unreasonable delay, this bill makes sure that border agents are focused on criminals and terrorists instead of wasting their time thumbing through innocent Americans’ personal photos and other data,” Wyden said in a statement. Fellow sponsors include GOP Sen. Rand Paul, as well as Reps. Jared Polis and Blake Farenthold.

In recent weeks, Wyden has raised his concerns about border searches with the Department of Homeland Security. He cited a report (from our friends at The Verge) about a NASA employee who was pressed to provide border agents in Houston with access to his smartphone. Two months later, Wyden still hasn’t received a response from DHS, a spokesman for the senator confirmed Tuesday.

In the meantime, DHS reportedly is weighing other new border surveillance efforts — including whether to ask foreign travelers to provide access to their devices or social-media passwords before arriving in the United States.

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