November 13 (UPI) — A federal court in Boston has ruled that the U.S. government may not search a passenger’s cell phone or other electronic devices at the U.S. border without a reasonable suspicion of a crime, foreign media reported. The ruling is a major victory for U.S. civil liberties advocates, who say the U.S. government’s own rules allowing its border inspectors to search travelers’ electronic devices at the border without a search warrant are unconstitutional.
The ruling by the federal court in Boston said the U.S. government’s policy of conducting unlicensed searches of electronic devices without reasonable doubt “violated the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unlicensed searches and confiscations of citizens.
The lawsuit was brought by 11 passengers, 10 of whom were U.S. citizens. They charged U.S. border agents in the lawsuit with searching their smartphones and laptops without a warrant, without any suspected wrongdoing or criminal activity. Their lawsuit is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The U.S. border remains a strange legal grey area. The U.S. government has long said that search warrants are not required to search electronic devices at the border. In the absence of a search warrant, any data collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can still be shared with U.S. federal, state, local, and foreign and foreign law enforcement.
Esha Bhandari, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Program, said the ruling “significantly advances” the Fourth Amendment’s protection of citizens.
“It’s a great day for travelers who can now cross international borders, and they don’t have to worry about the U.S. government without any doubt,” said Sophia Cope, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Borders Foundation. The looting of all of our electronic devices carrying unusually sensitive information. “
Millions of travelers arrive in the United States every day. Last year, U.S. border agents searched the electronic devices of 33,000 passengers without any reasonable suspicion, a fourfold increase from 2015. In recent months, travelers to the United States have been told to notify U.S. border agents if they have any social media accounts, all of which are checked before entering the country. Previously, some people were denied entry into the United States because of the presence of content shared by others on their phones.
A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection had no immediate comment.