A massive database has been growing at Customs and Border Protection as CBP officers extract data from electronic devices.
A report in The Washington Post last week said that during a summer briefing, CBP leaders told congressional staff that information from about 10,000 people a year is added to the database.
CBP officials said the data is kept on file for 15 years.
CBP agents routinely inspect phones, laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices when travelers enter the country — including those of American citizens, the Post reported.
In a letter to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said CBP is wrong for “allowing indiscriminate rifling through Americans’ private records.”
“Innocent Americans should not be tricked into unlocking their phones and laptops,” Wyden wrote.
“CBP should not dump data obtained through thousands of warrantless phone searches into a central database, retain the data for fifteen years, and allow thousands of DHS employees to search through Americans’ personal data whenever they want,” he wrote.
Wyden noted in the letter that CBP personnel searching the stored records don’t have to provide any reason for the search.
In a statement to the Post, CBP spokesman Lawrence Payne said CBP conducts “border searches of electronic devices in accordance with statutory and regulatory authorities” and has imposed rules to ensure the searches are “exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust.”
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The database, known as the Automated Targeting System, is used “to further review, analyze, and assess information CBP obtained from electronic devices associated with individuals who are of a significant law enforcement, counterterrorism” or national security issues, the statement said.
CBP officials retain data only when “absolutely necessary,” Aaron Bowker, CBP’s director of its office of field operations, said in an interview, according to the Post.
However, according to the Post, CBP is keeping quiet about the actual number of Americans who are affected.
“CBP officials declined, however, to answer questions about how many Americans’ phone records are in…