Your Electronics May Be Subject To A Search Along Texas Mexico Border
According to a document recently released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), electronic devices – such as laptops – can be subject to suspicionless searches near the border. Specifically, this alarming document confirms the DHS’s perceived right to seize and search any electronics without cause or reasonable suspicion as long as it occurs along the border – which has been designated as anywhere within 100 miles of these international boundaries.
Given the long stretch of border here in Texas, this search and seizure policy may have far-reaching implications – especially in border cities such as El Paso.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTION FROM SEARCHES AND SEIZURES
Generally, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the public from unreasonable searches and seizures of their “persons, houses, papers, and effects” by the government.
However, given that the constitutional provision does not specifically mention electronics – which the drafters could not have possibly contemplated at the time of composition – does this exclusion mean that electronics should be afforded any less protection?
Interestingly, the current position held by the DHS is that “imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits” and that the search policies do, in fact, conform to fourth amendment protections.
Unfortunately, the practice of searching electronics without suspicion or warrant by border patrol agents, such as Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been going on since 2009.
Of even graver concern is the fact that this policy could theoretically subject anyone living in a Texas city located within 100 miles of the border – like El Paso – to suspicionless searches of their electronics, and consequently the data they contain.
Ultimately, if this government search policy is not altered, it is likely destined to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. But until then, countless members of the public may find themselves, and their private electronic devices, subject to invasive searches simply because of their proximity to the border.
However, this DHS policy does illustrate the legal complexities surrounding governmental searches and seizures. Consequently, if you have been charged with an alleged crime due to evidenced obtained during an unconstitutional search and seizure, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to be advised of your options and to ensure your constitutional rights are protected.