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Court Rules Against Airport Searches of Phones, Laptops

Warrantless searches violate Fourth Amendment, federal court says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 13, 2019 3:53 AM CST
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Travelers check their phones at Indianapolis International Airport in Indianapolis.   (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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(Newser) – A federal court in Boston has ruled that warrantless government searches of the phones and laptops of international travelers at airports and other US ports of entry violate the Fourth Amendment. Tuesday's ruling in US District Court came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without individualized suspicion at US ports of entry, the AP reports. ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari said the ruling strengthens the Fourth Amendment protections of international travelers who enter the United States every year. Ten of the plaintiffs in the case are US citizens. One is a permanent legal resident.

The ACLU describes the searches as "fishing expeditions." They say border officers must now demonstrate individualized suspicion of contraband before they can search a traveler's electronic device. The government has vigorously defended the searches as a critical tool to protect America. The number of electronic device searches at US ports of entry has increased significantly, the ACLU said. Last year, the government conducted more than 33,000 searches, almost four times the number from just three years prior. Documents filed as part of the lawsuit claim the scope of the warrantless searches has expanded to assist in enforcement of tax, bankruptcy, environmental, and consumer protection laws, gathering intelligence, and advancing criminal investigations.

(Read more Fourth Amendment stories.)

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