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ACLU Search Warrant Lawsuit Filed Against US Government

2 years 6 months 2 weeks ago Friday, September 15 2017 Sep 15, 2017 September 15, 2017 3:15 PM September 15, 2017 in News

WESLACO – A lawsuit is now filed against the government over searches of electronic devices at ports of entry.

In April, CHANNEL 5 NEWS reported on how the Department of Homeland Security justified the searches.

Eleven people, 10 of which are U.S. citizens, are suing along with the American Civil Liberties Union. They state that their smartphones or laptops were searched without warrants at the U.S. border. Some searches were done in airports, another at the border.

The lawsuit wants to establish that there must be a warrant based on probable cause suspecting a violation of immigration or customs laws.

Right now, no warrant is necessary.

In April, then DHS Secretary John Kelly said it wasn’t routine to look through electronic devices.

In a statement, sent by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to CHANNEL 5 NEWS, reads in part:

“In fiscal year 2016, CBP processed more than 390 million arrivals and performed 23,877 electronic media searches.

This equates to CBP performing an electronic search on 0.0061 percent of arrivals.”

The law currently allows officers to inspect all persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in or departing from the U.S. It’s up to the discretion of each officer and for a purpose.

The following is the full statement sent to us by Border Patrol:

There is data below (highlighted) on the number and ratio of electronic media searches in the past two fiscal years, though we don’t yet have it for FY 17 but will try to provide that in our end of year report.

In Fiscal Year 2016, CBP processed more than 390 million arrivals and performed 23,877 electronic media searches. This equates to CBP performing an electronic search on 0.0061% of arrivals. This is an increase over the FY15 numbers when 4,764 electronic media searches were conducted, accounting for .0012% of arrivals. CBP officers processed 383 million arrivals in FY15.

Here are key points about the policy and practice of electronic device searches conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

All travelers arriving to the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection.  This inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices.

Various laws that CBP is charged to enforce authorize searches and detention in accordance with 8 U.S.C. § 1357 and 19 U.S.C. §§ 1499, 1581, 1582.  All persons, baggage, and merchandise arriving in, or departing from, the United States are subject to inspection, search and detention. This is because CBP officers must determine the identity and citizenship of all persons seeking entry into the United States, determine the admissibility of foreign nationals, and deter the entry of possible terrorists, terrorist weapons, controlled substances, and a wide variety of other prohibited and restricted items.

Keeping America safe and enforcing our nation’s laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully examine all materials entering the U.S. 

Searches of electronic devices at the border are often integral to a determination of an individual’s intentions upon entry and provide additional information relevant to admissibility determinations under immigration laws. They are critical to the detection of evidence relating to terrorism and other national security matters, human and bulk cash smuggling, contraband, and child pornography.  They can also reveal information about financial and commercial crimes, such as those relating to copyright, trademark and export control violations.

CBP electronic media searches have resulted in arrests for child pornography, evidence helpful in combating terrorist activity, violations of export controls, convictions for intellectual property rights violations, and visa fraud discoveries.

It is important to note that electronic media is just one piece of additional data examined during a border inspection and used to determine admissibility. The search is intended to complement other forms of information and intelligence commonly used during the inspection and vetting process.

Failure to provide information to assist CBP may result in the detention and/or seizure of the electronic device. All persons, baggage, and merchandise arriving in, or departing from, the United States are subject to inspection, search and detention.

Over the past few years, CBP has adapted and adjusted our actions to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence. As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP. Additional CBP officers have been trained on electronic media searches as more travelers than ever before are arriving at U.S. ports of entry with multiple electronics. Despite an increase in electronic media searches during the last fiscal year, it remains that CBP examines the electronic devices of less than one-hundredth of one percent of travelers arriving to the United States.

We are committed to ensuring the rights and privacies of all people while making certain that CBP can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders.

Additional information on electronic searches is available here and here.

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