Unfortunately, the powers and limitations of Customs and Border Protection agents are unknown to most Americans, and this ignorance is leading to severe consequences for Muslim travelers.
While we must ensure that privacy rights are protected when traveling, it is also imperative that people be made aware of their most valuable rights before being asked to give them up.
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Many of those reaching out are requesting information about their rights when traveling. Most have absolutely no idea what to do if a CBP agent asks for their electronic device.
With the signing of Trump’s “Muslim Ban” executive orders, travel is at the forefront of American Muslims’ concerns, and rightly so.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding reports that Muslims are more than twice as likely as members of other faith groups to be stopped at the airport.
In our local CAIR office, CBP complaints from the first quarter of this year have already surpassed all of 2016.
Earlier this month, Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden sponsored the Protecting Data at the Border Act, introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis and Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold.
The main objective of this bill is to disallow warrantless searches of American’s electronic devices at U.S. airports and border crossings.
In Riley v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, requires a warrant to search an American’s cell phone as part of an arrest.
However, the “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment currently permits a warrantless search at U.S. airports, giving CBP broad power over Americans’ electronics.
Noteworthy in the Protecting Data at the Border Act is the requirement that U.S. citizen travelers be made aware of certain rights before being asked to hand over an electronic device.
It requires that CBP provide written notice that the agent may not demand access to electronic devices without a warrant or refuse entry due to declining to unlock a device or to provide access to the contents within.
A requirement of this nature would go far in protecting U.S. citizens from falling for CBP agents’ pressure tactics designed to scare one into subjecting themselves to the intrusive search of a personal electronic device.
The efforts of this bipartisan group of senators and representatives should be applauded for its timeliness, significance and potential impact on the American Muslim community.
Extreme measures of protection should be taken when it comes to something as valuable as one’s digital privacy.
The profiling of Muslim Americans at the airport continues to stand in stark contrast to American values and ideals, and our elected officials should not think twice about passing measures such as the Protecting Data at the Border Act.
Nikiya Natale is an attorney and the civil rights director for the Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.