An Obama administration policy allowing U.S. border officials to seize and search laptops, smart phones and other electronic devices for any reason was challenged as unconstitutional in federal court Tuesday.
Citing the government’s own figures, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers claim about 6,500 persons had their electronic devices searched along the U.S. border since October, 2008. In one instance, according to the lawsuit filed in New York, a computer laptop was seized from a New York man at the Canadian border and not returned for 11 days. The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages, but asks the court to order an end to the searches.=
The so-called “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s probable-cause standard sometimes requires the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion” to search a traveler’s person or physical property, says Crump. But when it comes to electronic devices, the government’s “policy allows a purely suspicionless search of laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices,” she says.