Border officials have ‘near-unfettered’ access to electronic devices, ACLU says

US officials have discounted the power to search for electronic devices at the border and can widely share the resulting data, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

The organization, which is suing Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agencies had published new information on how to search the border. Civil liberties advocates have argued that officials are exercising unconstitutional powers to seek devices, and the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation today asked a federal court to rule without trial that those searches violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

"The information we discovered through our lawsuit shows that CBP and ICE are asserting an almost unrestricted authority to search and seize travelers' devices on the border, for ends away from the application of immigration and customs laws, "the ACLU said in a statement. The organization is representing a group of 11 people who were searched on their phones or laptops.

CBP data shows that those searches have expanded rapidly in recent years, and have increased to more than 30,000 in 2017. According to the ACLU, it cites the policy documents and the testimony that it obtained through the litigation, the Border officials can search devices for purposes that go beyond the application of immigration law. Officials can also conduct searches as a "risk assessment," which allows them to follow previously existing investigations, and may consider requests from other agencies to search for individual travelers.

Officials may also search devices to obtain information about other people, according to the ACLU, which could violate the privacy of people who know someone who is under investigation. The data obtained in the searches can be stored and shared with the police in the United States and around the world, says the ACLU.

An ICE spokesperson declined to comment. A CBP spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"The border is not a place without law, ICE and CBP are not exempt from the Constitution, and the information on our electronic devices is not exempt from Fourth Amendment protections," said ACLU lawyer Esha Bhandari , it's a statement. "We are asking the court to stop these illegal searches and demand that the government obtain a court order."

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