Lawsuit Asks Court to Stop Random Searches of Electronic Devices at US Border Checkpoints

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Two advocacy groups are suing the United States government over the practice of searching electronic devices at border checkpoints and airports. The two groups’ main argument is that the searches are unconstitutional as the devices contain private and personal information. The groups, instead, want warrants to be issued before a search is conducted.

Government officials have responded to the lawsuit claiming what they do, and how they do it, is critical for homeland security. The two foundations filing the suit, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, cite the Constitution in their argument.

According to the Fourth Amendment, searches and seizures are prohibited unless a warrant is issued for the search. The Associated Press reported that at border checkpoints and at airports, this requirement is null and void as it is a matter of national security.

“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,” Sophia Cope, the foundation’s attorney said. “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.”

These two groups filed the suit on behalf of 10 individuals, from various ages and professions, who have had their electronic devices seized. Some individuals didn’t receive their electronic devices back for nearly a month.

They argue that none of these men or women have ever been accused of any wrongdoing. There has been no response from Homeland Security directly, but government officials who spoke to the Associated Press claimed that these instances are rare.

On the other hand, searches like these have foiled terrorist plots, helped arrest child predators and even led to the arrest of human traffickers. Electronic device searches have become a hotly debated topic lately.

Last year, following the San Bernardino terrorist attack, the FBI wanted Apple Inc. to create a backdoor failsafe into their phones so they could unlock the device if needed. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook refused to do so and even condemned the request.

“Once created,” he wrote, “the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.”

The ever-growing advancements of electronic devices have begun to play a pivotal role in national security. As technology continues to advance, there will be a constant game of cat and mouse as the government tries to stay one step ahead of those who use these devices for wrongdoing.