U.S. border agents allowed to forensically search electronic devices without any suspicion

Posted 05 June 2018 23:56 CEST by Jan Willem Aldershoff

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has ruled that American border agents are allowed to forensically search, travelers’ electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops  without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is an American federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

In March this year, the same court ruled in another case, with other judges, that the American customs doesn’t need a warrant and that probable cause is never required for a border search. This also includes electronics devices. In another case, the court came to the same conclusion, to discontent of civil rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

“The Eleventh Circuit once again failed to acknowledge the vast amounts and kinds of sensitive data that our cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices contain,” Sophia Cope of the EFF writes on the organization’s website.

In May, the Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit, an American federal court in Richmond, ruled that random forensic searches of electronic devices by the U.S. Customs are unconstitutional. The EFF notes that both cases in the Eleventh Circuit involved suspects that were prosecuted based on what was found on their devices.

The EFF hopes that an upcoming civil case will have a more positive outcomes. On its website the EFF writes it hopes that the civil case, “will provide a fresh context for the courts to acknowledge the fact that millions of innocent people cross the U.S. border every year and they deserve the maximum protection for privacy that the U.S. Constitution provides.”


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