BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A local couple told NBC News that when they returned to Buffalo from recent trips this year to Canada, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers held them and searched their cell phones.
Akram Shibly, 23, and Kelly McCormick detailed two instances in January when CBP demanded they hand over their devices.
Shibly said in the second stop, he was put in a chokehold, with a second officer holding his legs, while a third federal agent pulled out his phone.
Legal experts say constitutional rights in the 4th Amendment, which prevent unreasonable search and seizure, do not extend to the border and international airports. There, officers do not need search warrants. However, the ACLU and other civil rights groups are mounting legal challenges, claiming a cell phone should be treated differently.
NBC News examined 25 cases in which American citizens said CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded their phones and passwords. None was on a terror watch list, and none was wanted for criminal activity.
But what most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim.
The Department of Homeland Security said there were around 4,900 electronic media searches last month. That's more than the 4,664 searches in the entire year of 2015.
The more aggressive tactics, senior intelligence officials said, are sparked by recent incidents in which the government failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks and by the campaign rhetoric of President Donald Trump, which has emboldened officers.
The ACLU said a U.S. citizen at a border crossing is not required to give a Customs and Border Protection officer his or her password; however, the officers can take the phone and make a digital copy. The ACLU said officers are not allowed to deny a citizen entry into the U.S. for refusing to hand over the password.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) sent a letter to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding answers on the uptick in electronic media searches at borders and airports. He said he will introduce legislation that will require a warrant in order for cell phones and other electronic devices be searched.
Shibly's case is now being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General. We'll keep you posted on any developments.