Court Says Border Searches Of Your Computer Are Okay Because You Shouldn’t Keep Important Info On Your Computer
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Dec 31st 2013
This one is hardly a surprise, given how many (though not all) courts have ruled concerning searches of computing devices at the border. The government’s general theory is that there is no 4th Amendment right at the border, and thus customs officials can search anything. The argument that they’re trying to prevent “bad stuff” from getting into the country really doesn’t make much sense though. If bad stuff is “on a computer” it could easily be sent digitally across the border with no intervention from a customs official. Furthermore, making border searches of laptops and phones even more troubling is the nature of how information is stored. When we pack for a trip we deliberately choose what to include in our suitcase — so we know what’s coming with us. However, on our electronic devices, we pretty much store absolutely everything. Arguing that these are subject to a full search seems problematic — but many courts have found otherwise.
And, now there’s another one. A judge in NY has dismissed a challenge to the searches brought by the ACLU. The judge, Edward Korman, repeatedly quotes former head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, who now makes money by hyping up the threats the country faces, so it’s not like he’s the most unbiased of folks to be relying on for how important these border searches really are. Judge Korman claims that the defendants have no standing to bring the case in the first place. There is one individual (a PhD. student) who actually had his computer searched, and then some professional organizations who worried about their members having their computers searched. The judge is simply not impressed by their arguments… at all. He notes that Customs and Border Patrol appears to search so few laptops that it’s highly unlikely that any individual will have theirs searched — and thus these groups can’t really allege a likely harm. He points out that it’s wrong to use a declaratory judgment case to address “a claim of alleged injury based on speculation as to conduct which may or may not occur at some unspecified future date.”