Electronic Devices at or Near the Border

Electronic Devices at or Near the Border

Referring to Supreme Court cases granting border officials wide discretion to search persons and effects entering and leaving the United States, federal officials have claimed to have authority to inspect electronic devices at the border. Privacy advocates have argued that searches conducted under this purported authority violate the Fourth Amendment.

Although some caselaw exists on this question, see, e.g., United States v. Cotterman, 709 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 2013) (en banc) (holding that reasonable suspicion is necessary to search electronic devices at border in certain cases); Alasaad v. McAleenan, 1:17-cv-11730-DJC (D. Mass. Nov. 12, 2019) (applying rule to larger class of searches); United States v. Ickes, 393 F.3d 501 (4th Cir. 2005) (allowing suspicionless searches), the law is not clear. Further litigation is ongoing.

In response to the risk of searches (which could expose lawful information such as trade secrets, personal correspondence, and embarrassing literature to inspection), some international travelers have begun wiping data from their computers and other devices before entering the United States; they can then download data from the cloud after clearing immigration and customs. 


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Criminal Procedure: Undergraduate Edition Copyright © 2022 by Christopher E. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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