US Citizens Forced To Give Social Media Passwords Upon Returning, Is It Legal?

It turns out that being an American citizen won’t make re-entering the country after a vacation any easier. Daily Kos reported that two American citizens returned to New York after visiting Canada and were shocked after the customs and border protection officers requested they hand over their phones with their social media passwords.

Most people expect if you are not an American citizen to go through a rigorous process to enter the country, even with a travel visa. However, no one expects citizens to be detained and searched by a customs officer.

On January 1, New York residents Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the US after a trip to Toronto. Customs stopped them and held for two hours while they searched their bags and social media accounts.

“It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,” Shibly said, a 23-year-old born and raised in New York.

TSA targets American citizens

They both cooperated and allowed the officer to search their social media accounts for “terrorist activity.”

Three days later, the couple returned from another trip from Canada and were stopped by customs again.

“One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone.’ And I said, ‘No because I already went through this not even a week ago.”

The officer asked for him to surrender his phone again. Within seconds, the young man was surrounded by customs agents. One man held his legs while another allegedly squeezed his throat from behind. A third man reportedly reached into his pocket pulling out his phone. McCormick watched in horror as her boyfriend’s face turned red as the officer applied steady pressure to his throat.

Most Americans admit they would like stricter background searches into those entering the country as a visitor. However, these people were not coming to the US on a travel visa — they were American citizens.

NBC News reported 25 cases of American citizens recently being detained and abused by US Customs Agents. In most of the cases, new border agents were “empowered” by their position and used it to abuse and demean American citizens, demanding that they hand over their phones with social media passwords. If they didn’t comply, they use force to get their way.

“The travelers came from across the nation and were both naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned.”

Even if this seems hard to believe, it is happening right now. What’s worse is it is going on under the direction of the Republican party.

The practice of searching cell phones at the border is not a new thing, but harassing American citizens is recent. In fact, it started after Trump took office. The reason is, President Trump has encouraged the border agents to toughen and restrict people from coming into the country —particularly those who appear to be Muslim.

“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say? If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”

“The shackles are off,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people’s rights.”

The worst part is that it is entirely legal because the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply at the border, giving the customs agents free reign to search anyone at any given time — even American citizens.

Americans supported the customs agents going through US visitors social media accounts before entering the country. However, invading American citizens’ privacy has created a public outrage.

[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]