US court rules against airport searches of phones, laptops

Boston: A federal court in Boston has ruled that warrantless US government searches of the phones and laptops of international travellers 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 travellers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without individualised suspicion at US ports of entry.

ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari said the ruling strengthens the Fourth Amendment protections of international travelers who enter the United States every year. The ACLU describes the searches as “fishing expeditions”. They say border officers must now demonstrate individualised suspicion of contraband before they can search a traveller’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.

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.


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