Groups File Suit to Stop Warrantless Tech Searches at Borders

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14 September, 2017

The Trump administration violated the USA constitution by searching phones and laptops of American travelers at the border without a search warrant, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleged, APA reports quoting Anadolu Agency.

The plaintiffs in the case are 10 USA citizens and one lawful permanent resident who hail from seven states and come from a variety of backgrounds.

Additional CBP officers have been trained on electronic media searches as more travelers than ever before are arriving at USA ports of entry with multiple electronics.

"Today's electronic devices contain troves of data and personal information that can be used to assemble detailed, comprehensive pictures of their owners' lives", the complaint filed Wednesday states.

"Searching personal electronic devices without a warrant based on probable cause violates the constitutional rights of individuals to keep the private and expressive details of their lives free from unwarranted government scrutiny", the suit says. Almost eights months later, the federal agents have not returned the smartphone, he said, forcing him to spend more than $1,000 buying a series of second-hand replacement devices. One of the individuals said that he was physically restrained by border officers while being questioned. In short, a diverse group, and all of them were stopped while entering the United States, had their devices confiscated for weeks or months, and none have been accused of any wrongdoing.

The issue of warrantless phone searches by DHS has sparked criticism from privacy-minded lawmakers on Capitol Hill and digital rights advocates. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, who are representing the travelers, said that several of the plaintiffs are Muslim or minorities.

ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari in a statement: "The government can not use the border as a dragnet to search through our private data".

According to ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari, the Fourth Amendment requires the government to have a search warrant before it can review the content of smartphones and laptops at the border, and the failure to do so is an open violation of the Constitution.

In the case of NASA engineer Sidd Bikkannavar, the plaintiff was on his way back from a vacation to Chile when a Customs and Border Protection officer in the Houston airport forced him to unlock his phone using his password and hand it over. According to the organization, this demand "challenges the government's fast-growing practice of searching travelers' electronic devices without a warrant. It's high time that the courts require the government to stop treating the border as a place where they can end-run the Constitution", said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope.

The number of such searches has dramatically increased in recent years: Customs and Border Protection conducted almost 15,000 such searches in the first half of fiscal 2017, compared to 19,033 in all of 2016 and just 8,503 in 2015, the groups say.

DHS officials have asserted that USA citizens and everyone else are subject to examination and search by customs officials, unless exempted by diplomatic status.

The agent, Allababidi said, took custody of the Samsung phone and promised to return it within 30 days.

DHS says no court has concluded that border searches of electronic devices require a warrant.

Defendant Diane Maye, a professor and retired US Air Force officer, was reportedly detained for hours at Miami International Airport when re-entering American from Europe in June. "I anxious that border officers would read my email messages and texts, and look at my photos", she said.


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