Law enforcement searches of traveler’s cell phones, laptops, iPads, and other electronics at international points-of entry (such as airports, and border crossings) have increased nearly 400% since 2015. These searches are increasingly being conducted for reasons which have nothing to do with immigration or national security, this according to a recent lawsuit filed in federal court in the District of Massachusetts by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The government continues to defend these searches (of which there were some 33,295 in the year 2018 alone) as a necessary tool to protect the nation’s borders. But the truth is these searches have little, if anything, to do with that. According to this newly-filed lawsuit, law enforcement is searching travelers’ electronic devices in record numbers to enforce all sorts of things, including tax, bankruptcy, environmental, and consumer protection laws, as well as to gather intelligence and advance ongoing law enforcement investigations for a broad range of things, including drug trafficking.
Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CPB”) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) routinely receive requests from other government agencies to search travelers’ electronics, as well as search the electronics of not only targeted individuals but also their associates, friends, and relatives. CPB and ICE then retain this information indefinitely and also regularly share it with other government entities, including state, local, and foreign police. These warrantless border searches effectively give the government-at-large limitless access to travelers’ digital devices (and the litany of digital information stored thereupon) and allow the government to skirt the Fourth Amendment and dig through highly-personal information contained on our laptops and phones without restriction.
While border searches are generally permissible without a warrant, these agencies have stretched the rule so as to exempt themselves from the Fourth Amendment’s strictures. The experts at Hernandez & Hamilton PC are leaders in the area of Search and Seizure Law and have extensive experience in successfully litigating cases involving unlawful searches by law enforcement. If you or a loved one are facing such a case, contact a Tucson criminal defense attorney at Hernandez & Hamilton PC to schedule a free consultation today.