Border Agents Admit To Major Privacy Breaches Under Oath

Why are American citizens being stopped when entering the country and made to hand over their electronic devices (and passwords) for border and customs agents to search? When stories of this kind of activity became a pattern back in 2017, the ACLU decided to sue the government for these warrantless searches.

Two years later, that lawsuit is paying off – especially in terms of information. Throughout preliminary motions, government agents had to testify under oath about their practices and hand over documents, and the findings are shocking.

Per the evidence the U.S. government turned over, both Customs & Border Protection and ICE are granting themselves “near-unfettered authority” to take phones, laptops and the like to read their emails, social media accounts, text messages etc. The information the agents uncover on these electronics can even be saved for other use.

While it’s not unusual for customs to do a search of physical items at the border, that’s a far cry from forcing travelers to fork over their private, sensitive data and correspondence without so much as a stated suspicion, let alone a warrant.

From the agents’ testimony, we now know that CBP and ICE operated well outside their own jurisdictions, too, taking the opportunity to try to look up information for other departments’ investigations on their device. Sometimes that was to learn more about the travelers themselves, and sometimes to try to learn more about someone with whom the traveler associates.

Remember, we’re not even talking about the privacy rights of undocumented immigrants right now. The plaintiffs in the ACLU’s case are 10 citizens (plus a legal U.S. resident) who are subject to this kind of violation when coming through a port of entry – typically an airport.

Hugh Handeyside, Senior Attorney for the ACLU National Security Project, writes, “Let’s get one thing clear: The government cannot use the pretext of the ‘border’ to make an end run at the Constitution. The border is not a lawless place. CBP and ICE are not exempt from the Constitution.”

First and foremost, there’s the issue of the Fourth Amendment. Technology has moved faster than the law on this subject, but the courts have come around that cell phone surveillance deserves a warrant given how much personal information it contains. Customs and ICE agents shouldn’t be helping themselves to citizens’ tablets willy nilly.

The ACLU also points out the First Amendment repercussions of the government’s actions. The organization worries that people traveling abroad will be afraid to express a dissenting opinion (even privately via text or email to a friend) if it means officials might look at it.

Additionally, there’s concern that journalists may have a difficult time reporting on certain topics or concealing confidential sources if their devices are to be searched. One reporter who joined the ACLU lawsuit suspects the nature of his stories led him to be singled out in this manner by the government.

In light of all this evidence, the ACLU has asked the judge to forego the impending trial and rule that CBP and ICE have to obtain warrants before searching electronic devices, just as any other agency would be required to do. It really shouldn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

42 comments

Martha P
Martha Pyesterday

Thank you for sharing

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danii p
danii p2 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p2 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p2 days ago

Thank you

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Joan E
Joan E5 days ago

Trump is a criminal, so he thinks he can be exempt from the Constitution, but I am hoping there is a military firing squad in his future. The treasonous SOB earned every bullet.

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H5 days ago

"The border is not a lawless place. CBP and ICE are not exempt from the Constitution.” I am beginning to believe that the current government is exempt from the Constitution.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O8 days ago

th

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O8 days ago

ok

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O8 days ago

awful

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danii p
danii p9 days ago

thanks for sharing

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