Judge Rules Feds Need Reasonable Suspicion Before Searching Tech Devices at the Border – By Scott Shackford (Reason) / Nov 13 2019
Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches are reduced when entering the country, but they’re not completely erased.
Border agents who seize and search people’s tech devices at entry points to the United States without any suspicion of criminal activity are violating Fourth Amendment rights, a federal judge ruled this week in a case likely headed to the Supreme Court.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued in 2017 on behalf of 11 travelers—10 American citizens and one permanent resident—who had been ordered by Department of Homeland Security officials to let them review and copy the contents of their devices without any sort of warrant or explanation of what agents were looking for.
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have long been arguing the authority for these warrantless searches on the basis of the so-called “border search exception.” Courts have traditionally ruled that America’s sovereign interest in controlling what and who it allows to enter its borders permits officials to search people and property coming into the country (or within 100 miles of a border) without needing a warrant or any sort of suspicion.
While this has historically been a mechanism for fighting smuggling, in a post-9/11 era it has been escalated into a demand to search people’s technology and access their files and contents. Each year, CBP searches tens of thousands of devices of people crossing the border.
The ACLU and EFF have been fighting these violations of privacy, and lawmakers like Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) have been proposing legislation to mandate warrants for tech searches.