Ending Warrantless Searches At Border Crossings


POSTED: Friday, May 20, 2011 - 5:05pm

UPDATED: Monday, May 23, 2011 - 10:25am

HIDALGO CO- A report released by The Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal think tank, is asking the Department of Homeland Security to stop its policy of searching electronic devices when people cross back into the United States from Mexico, unless Custom agents have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

U.S. Custom officials can freely seize your laptop or cell phone and go through it as they may and no search warrant is needed at border crossings. According to The Constitution Project, more than six thousand people were subject to those searches between October first of 2008 through June of last year.

The Department of Homeland Security defends warrantless searches to protect against terrorism but also in search of child pornography, drugs and other smuggling activity.

Sharon Bradford Franklin who is a senior policy counsel at The Constitution Project said warrant less searches violates the fourth amendment.

"In fact the impact is much more on those who are crossing our border legally but in all cases we want to make sure that agents are really focusing the law enforcement resources on cases where there is reasonable suspicion of illegal activity," said Franklin.

She went on to say that their committee suggested that there should be stricter standards for people who are U.S. citizens or legally permanent residents to be searched versus those who enter who are not U.S. citizens.

"In the case of a non us person who doesn't have a right to enter the country at all the committee recommended reasonable suspicion that the person is engaged in some kind of illegal activity so that's a much easier standard to meet and that would support for the search," said Franklin.

The report also indicates since technology is developing much more quickly than the law, lawmakers need to take another look at certain policies and change them.

"Our committee is really calling for updating up the law to make sure that the scope of this border exception remains a narrow one and our fourth amendment safeguards our preserve into the digital age," said Franklin.

The Department of Homeland security says less than 1% of people who enter the country are subject to laptop searches.

You can find the report at http://www.constitutionproject.org/pdf/Border_Search_of_Electronic_Devices_0518_2011.pdf 

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