A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday claims the US government's growing practice of searching laptops and cellphones at the border is unconstitutional because electronic devices now carry troves of private personal and business information, the AP reports. But the government has vociferously defended its searches as critical to protecting the homeland. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires law enforcement to secure warrants based on probable cause. Courts, however, have made an exception for searches at US ports of entry and airports. They've ruled the government can do warrantless border searches to enforce immigration and customs laws and protect national security.
In today's digital world, these searches should not be conducted without a warrant, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU argue. Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security and two of its units—Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement—are named in the suit. "People now store their whole lives, including extremely sensitive personal and business matters, on their phones, tablets, and laptops, and it's reasonable for them to carry these with them when they travel," says foundation attorney Sophia Cope. "It's high time that the courts require the government to stop treating the border as a place where they can end-run the Constitution." The foundation and ACLU filed their suit in US District Court in Massachusetts on behalf of 10 American citizens and a lawful permanent resident from seven states. Read more on the lawsuit here. (Read more Fourth Amendment stories.)