Judge rules gadgets are fair game in warrantless border searches

Border Patrol Agent Mike Burmudez at a command center along the Canadian border in Blaine, Washington. (Photo by Eroyn Franklin)

If you come with 100 miles of the Canadian border, the government can search your phone or laptop without cause.

In a fitting end to a terrible year for individual privacy rights, a federal judge in New York ruled that border authorities can seize and search people’s electronic devices, including smartphones and laptops.

The case, brought by the ACLU, challenged the constitutionality of a Department of Homeland Security policy dating back to 2009 that said no suspicion or warrant was required to search electronics. Searches at border crossings have long been considered exempt from Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure.

But with more and more of our lives stored on devices, Judge Edward Korman’s suggestion that we just leave behind gadgets with private data on them when we cross an international border seems downright unrealistic.

Even more disturbing is that the “Fourth-Amendment-Free-Zone” actually extends 100 miles south of the border, into an area covering a good third of Washington state, including Bellingham, Everett, and the even the northern edges of Seattle.

So should Shoreline residents expect to see Border Patrol agents snatching laptops at the local Starbucks. Probably not — though technically they could.

But the next time you cross the border into Canada, you might want to think twice about what’s on your hard drive.

1 Comment

  1. The Supreme Court has stated that the border search exception applies only at international borders and their “functional equivalent” (read: international airports & docks). I don’t know if true, but I’ve heard some extrapolate 100 miles from *those* locations, which would cover many more metro areas.

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1 Comment

  1. The Supreme Court has stated that the border search exception applies only at international borders and their “functional equivalent” (read: international airports & docks). I don’t know if true, but I’ve heard some extrapolate 100 miles from *those* locations, which would cover many more metro areas.

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