Recently, EFF and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit. Their suit revolves around tech device searches which have been carried out along the US border, quadrupling since 2015.
The plaintiffs claimed that the searches of laptops and mobile phones are often warrantless and therefore unconstitutional.
The lawsuit describes that border agents are routinely attempting to enforce laws beyond their purview of customs and immigration.
Meanwhile, US officials side with the inspectors, saying agents do have a wide investigative remit.
To put it in perspective, there were 33,295 searches of travelers’ tech devices in 2018.
As noted in the EFF and ACLU lawsuit filing, the searches were carried out for a range of states reasons: intelligence gathering, criminal investigations and tax enforcement.
In addition to certain travelers being targeted for searches, the lawsuit also details how the friends, relatives and associates of those travelers were also asked to surrender their devices.
To that, ACLU says that “The government cannot use the pretext of the ‘border’ to make an end run around the Constitution.”
About this situation and why searches may occur, an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) noted: “So perhaps in a fraud investigation, one business might want to report their competitors for engaging in fraudulent business practices. And that would be a factor that might give an agent reasonable suspicion for a border search.”
However, as Edin Omanovic from Privacy International notes, “The Constitution clearly protects the rights of all persons in the US, not just citizens. US authorities should absolutely and at the very minimum have some kind of suspicion and a warrant before trawling through people’s devices.”
However, the battle is an uphill one, with so-called warrantless searches at the Us border having been challenged in a court before — and ultimately upheld.