In the weeks since President Donald Trump first took executive action to significantly -- and controversially -- increase restrictions on immigration into the US, you may have noticed more and more stories about government agents confiscating and searching travelers' mobile phones at the border. Now, a new investigation appears to have confirmed the unsettling trend: phone confiscations and searches have skyrocketed this year.
Department of Homeland Security data published in a report by NBC News this week shows that US Customs & Border Protection officers searched 5,000 devices in February of 2017 alone, which is more than the total devices searched in all of 2015. The sudden uptick comes after a fivefold year-over-year increase in 2016 of almost 25,000 device searches and this year could easily surpass that number. DHS officials anticipate 2017 will be a "blockbuster" year for such electronic screenings, according to the report.
Of course, the legal practice of searching mobile devices started long before Trump came along and were already on the rise before he was elected, but the NBC News report indicates the president's executive actions on immigration and rhetoric about Muslims during the 2016 campaign "seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully." In fact, NBC examined 25 cases in which CBP officers forced American citizens to hand over and unlock their devices at airports and border crossings, and found that 23 of them were Muslim. One man was even put in a chokehold for refusing to give up his phone.