If a traveler’s phone, tablet, or computer ever gets searched at an airport, American border authorities could add data from their device to a massive database that can be accessed by thousands of government officials. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leaders have admitted to lawmakers in a briefing that its officials are adding information to a database from as many as 10,000 devices every year, The Washington Post reports.
Further, 2,700 CBP officers can access the database without a warrant and without having to record the purpose of their search. These details were revealed in a letter Senator Ron Wyden wrote to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, where the lawmaker also said that CBP keeps any information it takes from people’s devices for 15 years.
In the letter, Wyden urged the commissioner to update CBP’s practices so that device searches at borders are focused on suspected criminals and security threats instead of allowing “indiscriminate rifling through Americans’ private records without suspicion of a crime.” Wyden said CBP takes sensitive information from people’s devices, including text messages, call logs, contact lists, and even photos and other private information in some cases.
While law enforcement agencies are typically required to secure a warrant if they want to access the contents of a phone or any other electronic device, border authorities are exempted from having to do the same. Wyden also pointed out that travelers searched at airports, seaports, and border crossings aren’t informed of their rights before their devices are searched. And if they refuse to unlock their electronics, authorities could confiscate and keep them for five days.