Eleven travelers whose laptops and mobile devices were searched at the US border are suing the Department of Homeland Security in a case filed in federal court in Boston last week. At issue is border agents’ practice of searching devices without a warrant.
Diane Maye is a former US Air Force officer who served in Iraq. She was detained while Customs and Border Patrol agents searched her devices in Miami.
“Border agents confined me in a small room, they told me to unlock my phone and laptop computer,” she says. “I watched them, as they searched my laptop, then they took my phone for two hours, presumably searched it as well.”
Three of the plaintiffs live in Massachusetts and that’s why the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU say they filed the case in Boston. Customs and Border Patrol officials maintain that they are authorized to search laptops and cell phones as part of their mandate to inspect goods entering the country.
Ten of the eleven plaintiffs are US citizens, according to EFF senior staff attorney Adam Schwartz. He says customs and border patrol agents have had broad discretion to search mobile phone and laptops at the border for years, but the number of complaints to his organization about those searches has spiked under the Trump administration. The suit claims the searches violate both the First and Fourth Amendment.
“Now, why there has been a spike in the early Trump years, the government has not explained that,” he queries. “We are concerned that it’s not just growing numbers of devices but there’s an aggression to it as well. We hope the lawsuit will find out what is going on.”
Schwartz says their suit claims one US citizen was choked by a border agent for refusing to turn over his phone. He says device searches have tripled in the past two years.
Schwartz says the odds of your laptop or phone being searched is increasing because he says, border agents are on track for 30,000 searches this year compared to only 9,000 two years ago.