Apr 30, 2019

ACLU files new evidence on "warrantless" search and seizure by border officers

In this image, a man sits behind a DHS podium in an airport security line. A line of people stand next to him.

The DHS checkpoint in Miami International Airport. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union has released previously undisclosed government evidence that alleges border officers have conducted "warrantless and suspicionless" searches of travelers' phones and laptops in airports and other U.S. ports of entry.

What's new: Through its lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, Alasaad v. Nielsen, the ACLU plans to ask the federal court to block these searches.

New lawsuit details, which the ACLU obtained through deposition testimony and documents:

  • DHS can share information from travelers' electronic devices with other government entities — including state, local and foreign agencies.
  • Domestic law enforcement can request Customs and Border Production (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to search a traveler's electronic devices for a domestic investigation that is not related to customs or border security.
  • Border agents can search a traveler's electronic devices to gain information on someone who is not the traveler, including when the traveler is the business partner of someone else under investigation.

The backdrop: This lawsuit began in 2017 and has 11 plaintiffs — 10 U.S. citizens and 1 lawful permanent resident — who had their laptops or phones searched while traveling. The plaintiffs include a filmmaker, computer programmer, Harvard graduate student, NASA engineer and 2 journalists.

The ACLU's new filing:

Go deeper: Review the ACLU's privacy concerns in the original 2017 lawsuit

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to make clear that the DHS can share information from travelers' electronic devices with other government entities, not that it already has. We have also removed the reference to this being the first time DHS had spoken on the record about searching travelers' electronics.

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