Senator Asks DHS About Reports That Border Agents Asking For Phone PINs

February 20, 2017 1:43 p.m.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Monday asked the Department of Homeland Security about reports that border agents have stopped travelers and demanded access to their phones, expressing concerns about privacy.

“With those passwords, CBP may then be able to log in to accounts and access data that they would otherwise only be able to get from Internet companies with a warrant. Circumventing the normal protections for such private information is simply unacceptable,” Wyden wrote in his letter Monday.

Wyden’s letter follows a report earlier in the month that a NASA staffer was detained by Customs and Border Protection agents at a Texas airport until he gave them access to his phone. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also told Congress in February that the U.S. may ask for travelers’ social media passwords as part of a security check for entering the country, which Wyden noted in his letter.

“In addition to violating the privacy and civil liberties of travelers, these digital dragnet border search practices weaken our national and economic security,” Wyden wrote in his letter. “Indiscriminate digital searches distract CBP from its core mission and needlessly divert agency resources away from those who truly threaten our nation. Likewise, if businesses fear that their data can be seized when employees cross the border, they may reduce non-essential employee international travel, or deploy technical countermeasures, like ‘burner’ laptops and mobile devices, which some firms already use when employees visit nations like China.”

Wyden asked Kelly to explain how DHS is legally permitted to access a traveler’s phone and social media accounts, and for the number of times agents have asked for passwords since 2012.

Read the letter:

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