FILE - In this March 26, 2019, file photo, an airline passenger walk in the arrivals terminal at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

U.S. searches of phones, laptops at airports rising, suit says

A federal lawsuit that claims going through electronic devices without a warrant is unconstitutional

U.S. government searches of travellers’ cellphones and laptops at airports and border crossings nearly quadrupled since 2015 and are being conducted for reasons beyond customs and immigration enforcement, according to papers filed Tuesday in a federal lawsuit that claims going through 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 enforce tax, bankruptcy, environmental and consumer protection laws, gather intelligence and advance ongoing law enforcement investigations.

READ MORE: Foreign national arrested in connection to thefts at YVR

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 travellers’ 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 travellers’ 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 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 airports and other U.S. ports of entry.

READ MORE: Glitch causes delays at major U.S. airlines

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 favour without a trial.

“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.”

The court documents claim that the agencies also assert the authority to search electronic devices when the subject of interest is someone other than the traveller, such as the business partner of someone under investigation. Both agencies also allow officers to retain information from travellers’ electronic devices and share it with other government entities, including state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies, the court papers claim.

Deb Riechmann, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

BREAKING: Cloverdale McDonald’s employee tests positive for COVID-19

McDonald’s Canada immediately shut down the restaurant

Southridge students raise $5,600 for hospital meal program

GoFundMe campaign funds two months of meals at Peace Arch Hospital

Surrey kids get cooking during free SuperChefs camps pushed online by pandemic

‘Enthusiastic’ launch of program, which sees ingredient pickup at one local school

Court awards woman $143K for two Whalley rear-ender crashes, one by a bus

In both cases, Brigitte Bergeron’s vehicle was hit from behind while stopped at an intersection

Surrey RCMP searching for missing woman last seen in Crescent Beach

Milcah Kasomali-Chirumbwana last seen at 4:35 p.m. July 5 in the 12300-block of Beecher Street

Horrifying video shows near head-on collision on Trans Canada

The video was captured on dash cam along Highway 1

Fraser Valley woman complains of violent RCMP takedown during wellness check

Mounties respond that she was not co-operating during Mental Health Act apprehension

B.C. sees 12 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths

Three outbreaks exist in health-care settings

Lost dog swims Columbia River multiple times searching for home

The dog was missing from his Castlegar home for three days.

COVID-19: B.C. promotes video-activated services card

Mobile app allows easier video identity verification

ICBC to resume road tests in July with priority for rebookings, health-care workers

Tests have been on hold for four months due to COVID-19

Would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? Poll suggests most Canadians say yes

75 per cent of Canadians would agree to take a novel coronavirus vaccine

Abbotsford school vice-principal accused of getting Instagram ‘confessions’ page shut down

@A.S.S.S.Confessions page claims school officials contacted families to find out person behind page

Recreational chinook openings leave First Nations frustrated on the Lower Fraser

Limited recreational openings for chinook on the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers being questioned

Most Read