Suit tar­gets bor­der searches of de­vices

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Deb Riechmann

WASH­ING­TON — A fed­eral suit filed this week claims the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s grow­ing prac­tice of search­ing lap­tops and cell­phones at the bor­der is un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause elec­tronic de­vices now carry troves of pri­vate per­sonal and busi­ness in­for­ma­tion. The gov­ern­ment has vo­cif­er­ously de­fended its searches as crit­i­cal to pro­tect­ing the home­land.

The Fourth Amend­ment of the Con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits un­rea­son­able searches and seizures, and re­quires law en­force­ment to se­cure war­rants based on prob­a­ble cause. Courts, how­ever, have made an ex­cep­tion for searches at U.S. ports of en­try and air­ports, to en­force im­mi­gra­tion and cus­toms laws and pro­tect na­tional se­cu­rity.

These searches should not be con­ducted with­out a war­rant, the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion and the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union ar­gue. Top of­fi­cials at the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and two of its units, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion and Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, are named in the suit.

“Peo­ple now store their whole lives, in­clud­ing ex­tremely sen­si­tive per­sonal and busi­ness mat­ters, on their phones, tablets and lap­tops and it’s rea­son­able for them to carry these with them when they travel,” foun­da­tion at­tor­ney Sophia Cope said. “It’s high time that the courts re­quire the gov­ern­ment to stop treat­ing the bor­der as a place where they can en­drun the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

The foun­da­tion and ACLU filed their suit in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Mas­sachusetts on be­half of 10 U.S. cit­i­zens and a law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dent from seven states. The plain­tiffs are an artist, two jour­nal­ists, a limou­sine driver, two stu­dents, a film­maker, a col­lege pro­fes­sor, a busi­ness owner, a com­puter pro­gram­mer and an en­gi­neer at NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory in Cal­i­for­nia.

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