United States government sued over 'unconstitutional' border searches of phones and laptops

Remigio Civitarese
Settembre 13, 2017

It's still unclear whether any classified data was compromised during the search.

Allababidi said he declined to unlock his personal phone for the officers after allowing them to search his separate business phone. It is also challenging the confiscations of the devices for periods lasting weeks or months, the ACLU said.

"Our electronic devices contain massive amounts of information that can paint a detailed picture of our personal lives, including emails, texts, contact lists, photos, work documents, and medical or financial records", said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari in a statement.

A Nasa engineer and a retired US Air Force officer are just two of 11 people at the heart of a new lawsuit filed against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), accusing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents of "unconstitutionally" seizing devices.

"Because government scrutiny of electronic devices is an unprecedented invasion of personal privacy and a threat to freedom of speech and association, searches of such devices absent a warrant supported by probable cause and without particularly describing the information to be searched are unconstitutional". "The Fourth Amendment requires that the government get a warrant before it can search the contents of smartphones and laptops at the border". "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. The officer returned the phone a half-hour later, saying that it had been searched using "algorithms".

One of them, Suhaib Allababidi, 40, is a naturalized USA citizen born in Kuwait who owns a security business in suburban Dallas.

He previously gave agents the phone when crossing into Canada three days earlier, the rights group said. "They took my phone, and that's all I know". "Border agents should not be able to coerce people into providing access to their phones, physically or otherwise".

The practice, which remains rare but has grown more frequent in recent years, allows agents in border zones such as the arrivals areas of global airports to sidestep the Supreme Court's landmark Riley decision in 2014 requiring that law enforcement officers get search warrants before examining the contents of digital devices.

"People now store their whole lives, including extremely sensitive personal and business matters, on their phones, tablets, and laptops, and it's reasonable for them to carry these with them when they travel", EFF staff attorney Sophia Cope said in a statement. "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 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.

Ghassan and Nadia Alasaad are a married couple who live in MA, where he is a limousine driver and she is a nursing student.

Isma'il Kushkush is a journalist living in Virginia.

Zainab Merchant, from Florida, is a writer and a graduate student in worldwide security and journalism at Harvard.

Matthew Wright is a computer programmer in Colorado.

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.

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