Judge rules border DHS needs reasons to search travelers' phones

Ruben Fields
November 14, 2019

They argued the Customs and Border Protection and ICE policies that allow border searches of electronic devices without a warrant violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.It was a win in part for the travelers, as the judge limited searches at the border to those based on "reasonable suspicion", but did not rule that officials needed to obtain a warrant.

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She rejected the government's insistence that fishing expeditions can turn into good cases, saying there's a limit to the kinds of contraband that can be stored on phones in the fist place.

Random searches of phones and laptops have become quite rampant in the US.

More U.S. judges are siding with citizens' privacy rights when it comes to mobile device searches.

Homeland Security's immigration agencies had previously asserted an unfettered right to peek at travelers' devices, but Judge Denise J. Casper, an Obama appointee, said that violates the Constitution's privacy protections. A judge for the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California recently ruled that USA law enforcement ...

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The lawsuit, Alasaad v. McAleenan, was filed by EFF, the national ACLU, and ACLU of MA on behalf of 10 USA citizens and one lawful permanent resident who had their devices searched without warrants.

The number of electronic device searches at the border has ballooned during Republican President Donald Trump's administration, rising on a fiscal year basis from about 8,500 in 2015 to more than 30,000 in 2018, according to the ACLU.

That's a significant victory for civil liberties advocates, who say the government's own rules allowing its border agents to search electronic devices at the border without a warrant are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 travelers: 10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident.

"Although governmental interests are paramount at the border, where such non-cursory searches ... amount to non-routine searches, they require reasonable suspicion that the devices contain contraband", she ruled.

It's likely that this ruling will be appealed by the Department of Homeland Security, and we are not of sufficient legal knowledge to be able to tell from the rather complicated text of the ruling whether the ruling will apply immediately or nationwide.

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