Border Laptop Searches Spawn Lawsuits as Unconstitutional and Unwarranted

New lawsuit to challenge laptop searches at U.S. border

By Ellen Nakashima|Washington Post

A U.S. Customs agent inspects the contents of a travellers laptop.

Criminal defense lawyers, press photographers and a university student are challenging the Obama administration’s search policy permitting officers at U.S. borders to detain travelers’ laptop computers and examine their contents even without suspecting the traveler of wrongdoing.

In a federal lawsuit to be filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of New York, the plaintiffs allege that the Department of Homeland Security policy violates constitutional rights to privacy and free speech.

At issue is the government’s contention – upheld by two federal appeals courts – that its broad authority to protect the border extends to reviewing information stored in a traveler’s laptop, cellphone or other electronic device, even if the traveler is not suspected of involvement in criminal activity. In the government’s view, a laptop is no different than a suitcase.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration took an expansive view of the government’s authority at the border in an effort to stop terrorists from entering the country, and to find evidence of terrorist plots.

The Obama administration has followed suit, the plaintiffs said, with a pair of DHS policies issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in August 2009 that reaffirmed the policy of suspicionless searches at the border.

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