Warrantless: US Searches Of Phones, Laptops At Airports Rising

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Where specific regulations are unclear or missing, TSA/DHS screeners will overstep the larger considerations like the Fourth Amendment that limits warrantless search and seizure and without probable cause. Just because you are in an airport doesn’t mean the Constitution is totally suspended.  ⁃ TN Editor

U.S. government searches of travelers’ cellphones and laptops at airports and border crossings nearly quadrupled since 2015 and were being done for reasons beyond customs and immigration enforcement, according to papers filed Tuesday in a federal lawsuit that claims scouring the electronic devices without a warrant is unconstitutional.

The government has vigorously defended the searches, which rose to 33,295 in fiscal 2018, as a critical tool to protect America. But the newly filed documents claim the scope of the warrantless searches has expanded to assist in enforcement of tax, bankruptcy, environmental and consumer protection laws, gather intelligence and advance criminal investigations.

Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement consider requests from other government agencies in determining whether to search travelers’ electronic devices, the court papers said. They added that agents are searching the electronic devices of not only targeted individuals but their associates, friends and relatives.

The new information about the searches was included in a motion the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

“The evidence we have presented the court shows that the scope of ICE and CBP border searches is unconstitutionally broad,” said Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney for the EFF, based in San Francisco.

“ICE and CBP policies and practices allow unfettered, warrantless searches of travelers’ digital devices and empower officers to dodge the Fourth Amendment when rifling through highly personal information contained on laptops and phones,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment. Both ICE and CBP said they did not comment on pending litigation.

When the suit was filed against the government in 2017, DHS officials said U.S. citizens and everyone else are subject to examination and search by customs officials, unless exempted by diplomatic status. The department has contended that no court has concluded that border searches of electronic devices require a warrant. Searches, some random, have uncovered evidence of human trafficking, terrorism, child pornography, visa fraud, export control breaches and intellectual property rights violations, according to the department.

The original case was filed on behalf of 10 American citizens and a lawful permanent resident from seven states — including two journalists, a NASA engineer and a former Air Force captain — who alleged the searches violated their constitutional rights. They asked the court to rule that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause before searching electronic devices at U.S. ports of entry.

The plaintiffs also are demanding the government expunge from investigatory databases information obtained in past searches. ICE and CBP share information taken from travelers’ electronic devices with other agencies and there is control to prevent them from impermissibly retaining it, they argue.

A year ago, U.S. District Judge Denise Casper in Boston rejected the government’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, allowing the case to move forward. The ACLU and the foundation began gathering documents and deposition testimony. Based on the new information, they filed a motion Tuesday asking the judge to rule in their favor without a trial. “Travelers’ devices contain an extraordinary amount of highly personal information that the government can easily search, retain, and share,” it argues.

“This new evidence reveals that the government agencies are using the pretext of the border to make an end run around the First and Fourth Amendments,” said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari. “The border is not a lawless place. ICE and CBP are not exempt from the Constitution and the information on our electronic devices is not devoid of Fourth Amendment protections. We are asking the court to stop these unlawful searches and require the government to get a warrant.”

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[…] Warrantless: US Searches Of Phones, Laptops At Airports Rising […]

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Illegal aliens have no 4th Amendment protections since they are here illegally and are not citizens of the United States.

Patrick Wood

Of course they don’t have any rights. The point is that when government makes a practice of using this tech without laws in place to regulate it, that it will soon be turned on citizens as well. Mass surveillance must stop and individual practices must be regulated.

Elle
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Elle

This is not about illegal aliens. There are/have been laws and practices in place a very long time that deal with border crossings of illegals. However, American citizens are protected by the 2nd an 4th Amendments but because digital searches have no specific laws addresses “digital searches” TPTB, as in all case throughout history, will take advantage of the gap until there are digital laws. If you need an example of how TPTB have dealt with the general public throughout history here is an easy find for you. Look up child labor practices or anything to do with workers in… Read more »