Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

EFF sticker

A federal judge ruled against suspicionless searches of travelers' electronic devices in a lawsuit filed by EFF, the national ACLU, and ACLU of Massachusetts. (Image: EFF)

'Enormous Victory': US Judge Rules Suspicionless Searches of Travelers' Electronic Devices Unconstitutional

"The court reaffirms that the border is not a lawless place and that we don't lose our privacy rights when we travel."

Jessica Corbett

In a development that the Electronic Frontier Foundation declared "an enormous victory for privacy," a federal judge in Boston ruled Tuesday that suspicionless searches of travelers' phones, laptops, and other electronic devices by government agents at U.S. ports of entry are unconstitutional.

"This is a great day for travelers who now can cross the international border without fear that the government will, in the absence of any suspicion, ransack the extraordinarily sensitive information we all carry in our electronic devices," EFF senior staff attorney Sophia Cope said in a statement.

The lawsuit, Alasaad v. McAleenan, was filed by EFF, the national ACLU, and ACLU of Massachusetts on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident who had their devices searched without warrants. The suit named as defendants the Department of Homeland Security and two agencies it oversees—Customs and Border Protection as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Plaintiffs in the case include Sidd Bikkannavar, an optical engineer for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory living in California; Jeremy Dupin, a journalist living in Massachusetts; and Diane Maye, a college professor and former U.S. Air Force captain living in Florida.

When the suit was filed in September 2017, Maye said that she "felt humiliated and violated" after she was detained for two hours at Miami International Airport upon her return to the United States from a vacation in Europe.

"I worried that border officers would read my email messages and texts, and look at my photos," Maye explained. "This was my life, and a border officer held it in the palm of his hand. I joined this lawsuit because I strongly believe the government shouldn't have the unfettered power to invade your privacy."

Esha Bhandari, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said Tuesday that "this ruling significantly advances Fourth Amendment protections for millions of international travelers who enter the United States every year."

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Bhandari added that "by putting an end to the government's ability to conduct suspicionless fishing expeditions, the court reaffirms that the border is not a lawless place and that we don't lose our privacy rights when we travel."

Based on government data, CBP conducted more than 30,000 searches in fiscal year 2017. The privacy advocacy groups pointed out in their joint statement Tuesday that "the number of electronic device searches at U.S. ports of entry has increased significantly" in the past few years.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

70+ Lawmakers Tell Biden 'You Can and You Must' Provide Rail Workers Paid Sick Leave

"As president, you and your administration have a number of tools at your disposal to make sure rail workers are guaranteed paid sick leave," wrote the lawmakers.

Julia Conley ·


COP15 Biodiversity Summit Highlights 'Deadly' US Attitude Toward the World

"While others play by the rules, the most powerful nation refuses," writes George Monbiot. "If this country were a person, we'd call it a psychopath. As it is not a person, we should call it what it is: a rogue state."

Jessica Corbett ·


Final House Covid Panel Report Exposes 'Reckless' Trump Pandemic Response

The publication accuses top Trump officials of "failed stewardship" and a "persistent pattern of political interference" that undermined the nation's response to a pandemic that has killed more than a million people in the United States.

Brett Wilkins ·


As NYT Staffers Strike, Sanders Calls for 'New Ways to Empower' Workers Battling Industry Giants

"We need to rebuild and protect a diverse and truly independent press so that real journalists and media workers can do the critical jobs that they love, and that a functioning democracy requires," said the Vermont progressive.

Kenny Stancil ·


House Report on Big Oil Greenwashing Shows 'Big Tobacco Playbook All Over Again'

"These companies know their climate pledges are inadequate, but are prioritizing Big Oil's record profits over the human costs of climate change," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo