How Crossing The Border Can Get Your Laptop Confiscated

Sep 10, 2013

A report by The New York Times sheds light on how the United States government has routinely confiscated and searched the computers and electronic devices of people entering the U.S., even without a search warrant.

Specifically, the government relies on a so-called "border exception" to the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

The border exception, which has been upheld by courts, allows U.S. customs officers to conduct electronic-device searches that might otherwise require a warrant, as long as they have reasonable suspicion that a person entering the U.S. at a border crossing or other port of entry has committed a crime.

From the Times story, which cited newly released government documents:

In March, the Fronteras Desk reported on a case in which a federal court affirmed the border exception's constitutionality, but also said the government's leeway to confiscate and search people's electronic devices at ports of entry went only so far.

As we wrote at the time, in tempering the government's authority:

"A person's digital life ought not be hijacked simply by crossing a border," she wrote.

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