Legal Experts Raise Concerns Over Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones at Border


Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have had a long-standing practice and policy of demanding that individuals unlock their cell phones and other electronic devices when passing through the northern and southern borders of the U.S. The agents historically have taken these actions without warrants or “reasonable suspicion” to do so, based on an arbitrary determination that the search involved “national security.” These searches have increased dramatically in recent years. In 2015, there were 8,500 devices searched, in 2016, there were more than 16,000 devices searched, and by 2017, Border Patrol agents had searched more than 30,000 devices. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, meanwhile, searched over 23,000 devices in 2016 alone.

person looking at a cell phone

Legal Experts Raise Concerns Over Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones at Border

Pursuant to current policy, a “basic” search involves an agent simply scrolling manually through whatever is openly available on the cell phone. An agent who has “reasonable suspicion,” however, can conduct an “advanced” search, which involves using another device to conduct a more thorough forensic analysis of the cell phone or laptop.

A group of legal experts recently met with a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee about the constitutionality of these warrantless searches of cell phones at the border. One law professor was of the opinion that the searches both violate civil rights laws and lead to racial profiling. At least one legislator noted that ICE and CBP also have the authority to retain these devices indefinitely. There was no information available on what ICE and CPB have done or plan to do with the information that they have gained from these devices.

The immigration attorneys of Peek Law Group have the experience that you need when you are seeking any type of legal immigration status, regardless of your situation. We will determine the facts and evidence that are relevant to your case, evaluate your options, and help you decide the best course of action for your case. It is our intention to place you in the best position possible to achieve your goals. Contact our Texas immigration attorneys at our office today and learn how we can assist you and your family through this difficult situation.

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