U.S. border agents can search the laptops and smartphones of U.S. citizens for evidence of a wide range of crimes without first acquiring warrants, according to allegations made in two new court filings submitted Tuesday that are part of a lawsuit against such electronic searches.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union said new documents and depositions from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement show that agents can search the electronic devices of travelers for “general law enforcement” purposes and communicate with other government agencies to search for evidence of crimes including tax evasion and hiding assets in bankruptcy, NBC News reports.
The September 2017 lawsuit, Alasaad v. McAleenan, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, involves 10 U.S. citizens and one permanent resident who say that in recent years they were subjected to unlawful searches of their smartphones while returning home. The government argues that the “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment gives it wide latitude to search inbound U.S. citizens in the name of national security.
Customs and Border Protection also maintains that the searches are legal and exceedingly rare. Privacy activists maintain, however, that the rate of such searches has been rising in recent years.