Trump Administration Sued Over Warrantless Phone, Laptop Searches at US Border

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Several but not all of those named in the suit were Muslims, and all complained of being pressured - and in one case physically forced - to give phones to border officers for examination.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed the suit in a Boston, Massachusetts U.S. District Court on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens and one permanent resident. The ACLU and EFF argue that agents must make a finding of probable cause before seizing a device and get a search warrant - which requires that a judge certify the finding of probable cause - before examining the devices.

Panelists at the ABA Annual Meeting in August said case law is murky on whether border officials can do more than a cursory search without probable cause, but lawyers may want to use burner phones and laptops without client data when traveling outside the country to avoid disclosure. They contain massive amounts of sensitive and personal information, including much of our written communications, contact lists, location data, and photos and videos portraying the most intimate aspects of our relationships. "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".

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in MA, argues that the seizures violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

Refusing to the procedure can carry out physical restraining, as suffered by Akram Shibly, an independent filmmaker who lives in NY, who was reentering the country through the US-Canada border, after taking a social trip to Toronto in January, when a CPB agent ordered him to deliver his smartphone. They are republished from a number of sources, and are not produced by MintPress News.

The suit says the number of such searches has grown sharply in recent years and will likely hit 30,000 this year, compared with 8,503 in 2015 and 19,033 in 2016.

The suit, filed in a U.S. District Court in MA, is being brought by travelers including a military veteran, a NASA engineer, two journalists and a computer programmer.

The Fourth Amendment protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures - including at the border. They're standing up for all of us, and we're standing with them.

Given the broad discretion the policies seem to afford border officers in conducting electronic device searches, the records may also raise additional questions regarding discriminatory treatment of travelers on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or even First Amendment-protected activity such as reporting or advocacy.

Credit Pixabay
Credit Pixabay

The lawsuit was introduced in the District Court of MA, signed by travelers like Sidd Bikkannavar, en engineer from the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, who was detained in the airport in Houston when he was reentering the country after a vacation trip to Chile.

Of course, once an agent has your phone and its password, there's not a whole lot stopping him or her from tapping the Facebook icon. The agent returned the device half an hour later, assuring it was being inspected using "algorithms". Consequences of failure to provide information: Collection of this information is mandatory.

One plaintiff, Akram Shibly, was ordered to surrender his phone on January 1 as he re-entered the United States after a social outing in Toronto. One is alleging that physical force was used by border guards. One officer grabbed Akram's neck and began to choke him, while another held his arms and legs. "The third agent reached into my trousers pocket and took my phone, all while I was in severe pain and fearing for my life". The government has still not returned his personal phone after more than seven months, he said.

That's a 76% increase this year, and we're only nine months in. Border agents asked him to unlock his laptop. The agents confiscated their phones and demanded the passwords to unlock them.

Another plaintiff, former US Air Force officer Diane Maye, experienced a similar search after returning from Europe in June.

Homeland Security has not yet commented on the suit.

"Border agents confined me in a small room", she said during a call Wednesday.

The JPL tech team was reportedly not at all happy about the security breach and in the days following the event Bikkannavar wrote on his Facebook page, "I'm back home, and JPL has been running forensics on the phone to determine what CBP/Homeland Security might have taken, or whether they installed anything on the device". "I anxious that border officers would read my email messages and texts, and look at my photos", she said. "This is my life and a border agent held it in the palm of his hand". In the first half of the current fiscal year, there were 14,993 searches. The first was in January 2016 in New York City.

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