Hand Over Your Cell Phones If You Want to Come Back into the Country

Imagine that you went on a nice relaxing road trip to Niagara Falls, and you crossed the border into Ontario Province to get the full experience. The thundering water into the Niagara River below and the humorous sight of herring gulls looking for scraps from the unsuspecting tourists overlooking the beautiful landscape were exhilarating. Maybe you even attempted to brave the horrific traffic and catch a Toronto Blue Jays game. However, upon returning to either Niagara County or Erie County, New York, your experience was not as thrilling. In fact, it was outrageous. The border agent requested that you hand over your cell phone with the password without objection. You yell, “No way! You need a warrant for that.”

The sad reality is that this type of madness does occur. In fact, one such case is similar to the scenario mentioned above, but a couple had their phones searched twice within the same week. They were detained for two hours the first time, and the second time saw the man being physically pinned by the agents after he refused two verbal requests. The phone was forced from his pocket and his data searched.

Some Americans may not object too harshly to border agents acting in this manner because they have grown up in a society that often accepts increased law enforcement measures, but this is the United States, not the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. There is a constitution, and we have civil liberties laid out in a bill of rights. The Fourth Amendment specifically states that searches by law enforcement must be reasonable, under the confines of probable cause, and conducted with a warrant that is specific as to the person, place, or thing. Legal precedent has watered down parts of this by allowing border agents to search if there is any type of suspicion whatsoever and not applying the Fourth Amendment to the border. To insult Americans further, agents are permitted to "borrow" devices for up to five days, and they can hold it longer if they actually determine that there is some sort of probable cause for having taken the device in the first place.

The common response to this type of policy is the “I have nothing to hide” argument. However, not every American agrees with this idea, and the approval by some does not mean that the government has the right to take away that right from others who do not approve. Human rights, including the rights of privacy and travel, precede and transcend governments. Plus, if the government really wanted to silence you or just be annoying, it could find something on your phone that warrants detention or negative publicity. Regardless, privacy is an inherently American principle that our founding fathers fought for, and it is something that is important to allow people to have a safe place to figure out their ideas and relax. In addition, governments should be held accountable, and the accepting nature of the people on issues such as these, however small they may seem, will only lead to increased measures at the hands of the police state. The gradual degradation of our rights should not be tolerable in the United States, and once some of them disappear through precedent, it is very unlikely that they will ever return. Governments do a very good job at convincing people that certain rights need to disappear in exchange for security, but trading liberty for security exchanges threats from terrorists or foreign agents for threats from government agents.

A few politicians are fighting the cell phone fiasco and attempting to take a stand for liberty. Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul and House of Representatives members Jared Polis and Blake Farenthold have introduced bills into their respective houses to force agents to obtain a warrant before searching electronic devices at the border (airports included). This will likely fail in Congress because most politicians are interested in more government power (whether it is the economy, people’s lives, or foreign policy). Plus, President Trump would likely veto the bill if were to make it to the White House.

We Americans must stand up for liberty, no matter how trivial the matter may seem. Never take freedom for granted, and remember, police states can occur when the populace is complacent and accepting of government intrusions into individuals’ lives. Democracies/republics are not immune.

Thanks for reading. If this topic and others related to liberty and mishandling of foreign policy appeal to you, please check out my book, The Global Bully.
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