Suit targets border searches of devices
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.