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America's Lawless Surveillance State Gets a Needed Setback

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#1 LFC

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Posted 14 November 2019 - 06:06 PM

The DHS was already pushing too hard before Trump. Now they're completely out of hand and admittedly lawless. A federal court set their lawless behavior back a bit.


last a victory for citizens. For nearly 20 years, the federal government has used and abused the memory of the 9/11 attacks to expand its law enforcement authorities at the nation’s airports, even if that has meant broaching one of our most sacrosanct constitutional freedoms: the right against illegal search and seizure, otherwise known as the 4th Amendment.

On Tuesday, a federal court in Boston ruled that the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can no longer detain Americans coming back over the border to search their laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices, without cause. One would think this is a no-brainer, but the number of these incidents has actually escalated to over 33,000 last year—nearly four times as many as the previous three years, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:


The ruling came in a lawsuit, Alasaad v. McAleenan, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and ACLU of Massachusetts, on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without individualized suspicion at U.S. ports of entry.

International travelers returning to the United States have reported numerous cases of abusive searches in recent months. While searching through the phone of Zainab Merchant, a plaintiff in the Alasaad case, a border agent knowingly rifled through privileged attorney-client communications. An immigration officer at Boston Logan Airport reportedly searched an incoming Harvard freshman’s cell phone and laptop, reprimanded the student for friends’ social media postings expressing views critical of the U.S. government, and denied the student entry into the country following the search.

According to EFF, border officers “must now demonstrate individualized suspicion of illegal contraband before they can search a traveler’s device.”

TAC’s Barbara Boland reported on this over the summer. The number of electronic devices accessed in 2018 was six times the number in 2012, suggesting that this is not only a post-9/11 issue, but that somewhere along the line the Trump Administration signaled to these agencies, which are all under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, that it was gloves-off at the border—even for American citizens. Lest you think this is just an extension of the president’s tough illegal immigration policies, be warned, many of the folks targeted were typical international visitors and U.S. citizens—think students, journalists, academics, doctors—and not travelers to this country for the first time. And they were treated like they were coming into the Third World.

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#2 Probabilistic

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Posted 15 November 2019 - 11:22 AM

This week the government argued in the Supreme Court, with apparent success, that maintaining high morale among the CBP personnel is more important that individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution. So a federal court may say no search and seizure without individualized probable cause but individuals may have no recourse to seek redress when such rights are violated.

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