EFF and ACLU Can Proceed With Legal Challenge Against Warrantless Searches of Travelers’ Smartphones, Laptops

(EFF) – Boston, Massachusetts—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Massachusetts won a court ruling today allowing their groundbreaking lawsuit challenging unconstitutional searches of electronic devices at the U.S. border to proceed—a victory for the digital rights of all international travelers.

EFF and ACLU represent 11 travelers—10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident—whose smartphones and laptops were searched without warrants at the U.S. border. The case, Alasaad v. Nielsen—filed in September against the Department of Homeland Security—asks the court to rule that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause before conducting searches of electronic devices, which contain highly detailed personal information about people’s lives. The case also argues that the government must have probable cause to confiscate a traveler’s device.

A federal judge in Boston today rejected DHS’s request throw the case out, including the argument that dismissal was justified because the plaintiffs couldn’t show they faced substantial risk of having their devices searched again. Four plaintiffs already have had their devices searched multiple times.

“This is a big win for the digital rights of all international travelers,” said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope. “The court has rejected the government’s motion to dismiss all claims in the case, so EFF and ACLU can move ahead to prove that our plaintiffs’ Fourth and First Amendment rights were violated when their devices were seized and searched without a warrant.”

“The court has rightly recognized the severity of the privacy violations that travelers face when the government conducts suspicionless border searches of electronics,” said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari, who argued the case last month. “We look forward to arguing this case on the merits and showing that these searches are unconstitutional.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy allows border agents to search and confiscate anyone’s device for any reason or for no reason at all. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policy allows border device searches without a warrant or probable cause, and usually without even reasonable suspicion. Last year, CBP conducted more than 30,000 border device searches, more than triple the number just two years earlier.

For the ruling:
https://www.eff.org/document/alasaad-v-nielsen-order-denying-defendants-motion-dismiss

For more on this case:
https://www.eff.org/cases/alasaad-v-duke

Below is a full list of the plaintiffs along with links to their individual stories, which are also collected here:

  • Ghassan and Nadia Alasaad are a married couple who live in Massachusetts, where he is a limousine driver and she is a nursing student.
  • Suhaib Allababidi, who lives in Texas, owns and operates a business that sells security technology, including to federal government clients.
  • Sidd Bikkannavar is an optical engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
  • Diane Maye is a college professor and former captain in the U. S. Air Force living in Florida.
  • Zainab Merchant, from Florida, is a writer and a graduate student in international security and journalism at Harvard.

For the court ruling:
https://www.eff.org/document/alasaad-v-nielsen-order-denying-defendants-motion-dismiss

For more on border searches:
https://www.eff.org/wp/digital-privacy-us-border-2017

For more ACLU information on this case:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-eff-sue-over-warrantless-phone-and-laptop-searches-us-border

Originally published by Electronic Frontier Foundation