Border Agents Searching Cellphones and Laptops

Everyday people cross the border for business or pleasure, many unaware, that they may be subject to a search by federal agents without any reasonable suspicion.

"A hunch should never be enough to allow the government to ransack an individual's possessions,” said Sean Riordan, Staff Attorney at ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

But since 2008 U.S. border agents have been searching traveler’s electronic devices without suspicion.

That's when the Bush Administration gave agents the right to search everything from your laptop to your cellphone.

According to a 2011 study by the Department of Homeland Security, nearly 700 travelers who crossed the border between 2009 and 2010 were subject to electronic device searches.
DHS claims of those searched, 41 devices were held by the government.

“There’s no legitimate claim that I've seen that would show that we're actually making ourselves safer by allowing the government to go thru these kinds of devices,” added Riordan.

While the ACLU says the practice promotes racial profiling, DHS says the searches help detect criminal activity -- from child pornographers to terrorists.

NBC 7 tried to get a response from our local Customs & Border Protection office and the FBI, but both declined an interview.

However, Peter Boogaard, a national spokesman for DHS sent NBC 7 the following statement:

"In 2009 DHS revised its policy on border electronic device searches, to protect travelers' interests, rules on detention of devices after searches were complete, and to add supervisory review and notice to device owners about their appeal rights. The changes included improvements to our traveler complaint system, supervision of officer decision making, clarification of the non-discrimination policy and monitoring to ensure non-discrimination."

Earlier this year the 9th Circuit Court of appeals ruled that U.S. border agents do not have the authority to search personal electronic devices of travelers without reasonable suspicion.

Meanwhile, the ACLU has a pending lawsuit challenging this policy.

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