U.S. District Court Rules that Border Searches of Electronic Devices Must be Based on Reasonable Suspicion
November 20, 2019
Last week, a federal judge ruled that the government’s searches of international travelers’ smartphones and laptops at border points and airports without specifying a basis for the specific search violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful searches and seizures.
The judge’s opinion resulted from a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of 11 individuals. According to the Courthouse News Service report on this court order, “The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a military veteran, journalists, students, an artist, a NASA engineer and a business owner. All were reentering the United States from business or personal travel when border officers searched their devices. None were subsequently accused of any wrongdoing.”
According to that same report, the ACLU and EFF learned through discovery that the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were allowing their agents to search devices with little to no justification for legitimate purposes.
Now, following the judge’s decision, the CBP and ICE must point to “specific and articulable facts” pointing to a reason for suspecting possession of contraband or violation of laws.