US Limits Rights of Border Guards in Citizen Searches

US Federal District Judge rules that CBP must obtain a warrant for searches of citizens’ mobile phones on the border, except in cases of emergency. This decision marks the first acceptance of such a solution in the USA and is a victory for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has been fighting against border searches for almost ten years. The current legislation of American customs and border service enables CBP to search anyone within 100 miles of the US border at any point, affecting around 60% of the US population.

Last year, the CBP detained a US citizen upon his return to Newark Airport from Jamaica and forced him to hand over his mobile phone and password under the threat of unlimited detention, an act of coercion that does not violate the fifth amendment against self-incrimination. The agents checked the phone manually, photographed it without a warrant and were granted a search warrant a few weeks later, which Smith argued violated his rights.

In response, Judge Rakoff ruled that the government could not copy and search a US citizen’s phone on the border without a warrant, except in emergencies. The court noted that it is not obliged to consider whether this same procedure would apply to non-US residents.

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