Federal Judge: Government Can Seize Traveler’s Electronics Without Reasonable Suspicion

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

On Tuesday, a federal judge upheld the federal government’s right to search a traveler’s electronic devices at the border.

A lawsuit challenging the government’s confiscation of laptops, cellphones or other devices at the border was dismissed by the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Judge Edward R. Korman ruled that "there is not a substantial risk that their electronic devices will be subject to a search or seizure without reasonable suspicion.”

The suit was initially filed in 2010 by a Islamic studies student, Pascal Abidor. While riding a train from Canada back to the U.S., Abidor was removed and detained for several hours. Federal agents confiscated his laptop and kept it for nearly two weeks.

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, Abidor and plaintiffs from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Press Photographers Association filed suit. Some professionals argued that traveling with confidential information is part of their job.

"Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the standard set by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures," ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said in a statement. "Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight."

“While it is true that laptops may make overseas work more convenient,” wrote Korman in his ruling, “the precautions plaintiffs may choose to take to ‘mitigate’ the alleged harm associated with the remote possibility of a border search are simply among the many inconveniences associated with international travel.”

Abidor was disappointed by the court ruling.

“He just seemed so skeptical of the basic premise that people need to travel with devices," he said of Korman.

Sources: New York Times, The Verge