USA sued over border searches of phones and computers

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"This lawsuit challenges searches and seizures of smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices at the U.S. border in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution", the lawsuit states. "No government should go through our private stuff unless they have a warrant".

The US Department of Homeland Security is being sued by 11 travellers who had their smartphones and laptops seized and searched at the US border.

View of Algodones, Mexico from the USA side of the port of entry.

Electronic devices deserve more protection at an airport or a border crossing than a suitcase or a purse due to the "massive" amounts of personal information they contain, including messages to loved ones and private photographs, as well as sensitive medical, legal and financial information, according to the complaint. "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 in a statement.

The case was filed this morning in the US District Court of MA.

Another, NASA engineer Sidd Bikkannavar, was detained at Houston airport on the way home from holiday in Chile. None had ever been accused of any wrongdoing. 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 plaintiff's security device, confiscated in January, is still in government custody.

Matthew Wright is a computer programmer in Colorado. This is something that the acting head of the border agency, Kevin McAleenan, has specifically assured Congress does fit into border agents' jurisdiction. In that case, what they discovered led to them prosecuting her for attempting to smuggle methamphetamine into the US.

"I joined this lawsuit so other people don't have to have to go through what happened to me", said Shibly, who is from upstate NY.

DHS could not be immediately reached for comment. But the government has previously emphasized that such searches are exceedingly rare. They added, "We do not forfeit our constitutional rights when we return to the United States from overseas".

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Searches, however, are becoming more frequent.

The suit says that the number of such searches - conducted by Customs and Border Protection agents, sometimes with the assistance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement - have grown sharply in recent years and is on track to reach roughly 30,000 in the current fiscal year. The number rose to 19,033 the next year.

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

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 issue of border searches has even bubbled up to Congress with the proposed Protecting Data at the Border Act, which would require border agents to get a warrant signed by a judge before going through digital devices and would introduce a four-hour time limit for detaining Americans at the border. Some individuals, including one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, describe being physically assaulted after refusing to turn over a password. And a third officer pulled the phone from Shibly's pocket. In other instances, a plaintiff alleges that he was physically assaulted by border agents who confiscated his unlocked smartphone. The phone was handed back an hour later.

They asked her if she knew any Iraqis.

Diane Maye is a college professor and former captain in the U. S. Air Force living in Florida.

"I use my phone for my work. I anxious that border officers would read my email messages and texts, and look at my photos", she said, in a statement via the ACLU. "It kinda started to disgust me".

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