Court upholds laptop searches at border

th010214bBy Julian Hattem

A federal court has tossed out a lawsuit trying to prevent the government from searching laptops, cellphones and other devices at U.S. border checkpoints.

The circuit judge’s decision to uphold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy on Tuesday was a blow to civil liberties groups that argued the practice violated the Constitution’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

According to government documents, officials at the border search and copy the contents of thousands of people’s devices each year. Border agents are allowed to look into the devices and detain them for a short period of time without a reasonable suspicion that the traveler has committed a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a lawsuit challenging the DHS policy in 2010, on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association and Pascal Abidor, a French-American man whose laptop was confiscated at the Canadian border.

But in his opinion on Tuesday, Judge Edward Korman wrote that the groups did not have standing to dispute the DHS searches because “there is not a substantial risk that their electronic devices will be subject to a search or seizure without reasonable suspicion.”

He added that polices for border agents “are sensitive to the privacy and confidentiality issues posed by border searches of electronic devices. They constitute efforts to cabin the nature and extent of such searches, and they contain significant precautionary measures to be taken with respect to the handling of privileged and other sensitive materials” that may be contained.

Abidor claimed that he saw evidence that his personal files had been searched while border officials held his laptop for 11 days.

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