Report: Ninth Circuit Limits Feds' Confiscation of Cellphones and Laptops at Points of Entry

Report: Ninth Circuit Limits Feds' Confiscation of Cellphones and Laptops at Points of Entry

News 2021-07-31
According to the report, border agents working at some U.S. ports of entry, airports, and shipping ports face new restrictions on their ability to confiscate travelers' electronic devices.

In a decision made in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco effectively denied agents access to cellphones and laptops without a warrant.

The order, which applies only to states in the western United States under the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction, effectively prevents law enforcement agencies in those areas from searching for evidence of a crime.

The order prohibits CBP agents from looking only for digital contraband, such as child pornography, according to Border Report.

Ev Meade of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego said the order appeared to prevent officers from clearly exceeding their authority to confiscate devices.

"Under the previous administration, officers maintained a national security blacklist, blacklisted reporters, aid workers, and lawyers, and confiscated their phones and laptops," Meade said. "It's very reasonable to question the scope of this search and say you're doing it under cover of national security. The court unequivocally said no."

"And have they really shown that violating these people's privacy serves some compelling public purpose?" she continued. "No, the government has failed to meet the burden of an overwhelming public interest in violating people's privacy."

The case stems from a 2018 incident in which CBP officials ordered a man to unlock and leave his cell phone at a port of entry in San Ysidro, California, the report said. As a result, the traveler was a U.S. citizen, and border officials took all of his information, photos, and contact information.

According to Frontier Report, court documents say the man was among about 41,000 travelers whose phones and/or laptops were searched by agents between October 2018 and October 2019.

The Ninth Circuit covers the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

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