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Airport Security: Court Rules Against Arbitrary Search of Travelers' Phones | Immigration Lawyer Mario Godoy | Godoy Law Office

Court Rules Against Arbitrary Search of Travelers’ Phones

U.S. border agents can no longer search international travelers’ phones and other electronic devices without suspecting them of a crime, Boston federal district judge U.S. District Judge Denise Casper ruled on November 12. In response to a 2017 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the judge said the Fourth Amendment requires authorities to have at least a reasonable and individualized suspicion of criminal activity. Customs and Border Protection agents have been randomly seizing and searching international travelers’ phones and electronic devices at airports and other U.S. ports of entry without probable cause or warrants.

Judge Casper’s ruling said,

“Even under the border search exception, it is the privacy interests implicated by unfettered access to such a trove of personal information that must be balanced against the promotion of paramount governmental interests at the border.” 

The Associated Press reported that the number of travelers’ phones and electronic device searched at U.S. ports of entry has increased significantly:

  • In 2018, the government conducted more than 33,000 searches, almost four times the number from just three years prior.
  • Customs and Border Protection said that in Fiscal Year 2019, the department processed more than 414 million travelers at U.S. ports of entry.
  • During that same period of time, it conducted 40,913 border searches of electronic devices.

In August, Tech Crunch reported that immigration officers at Boston’s Logan Airport questioned college student Ismail Ajjawi about his religion and religious practices. The officers who searched his phone and computer reportedly took issue with his friends’ social media activity. Ajjawi’s visa was canceled and he was deported for his friends’ social media posts, although he was later permitted to enter the United States to attend Harvard University.

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