ACLU Asks CBP Why It's Threatening US Citizens With Arrest For Refusing Invasive Device Searches
from the I-assume-'because-fuck-you,-that's-why'-is-the-answer-we'll-be-g dept
Just a reminder this is the sort of thing that is happening at our borders with exponentially-increasing frequency.
The agents proceeded to search my belongings and demanded that I unlock my smartphone and laptop. This was rather concerning for me. My phone and laptop are property of my employer and contain unreleased software and proprietary information. I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement promising not to give anyone access.
Because I was uncertain about my legal responsibilities to my employer, I asked the agents if I could speak to my employer or an attorney before unlocking my devices. This request seemed to aggravate the customs officers. They informed me that I had no right to speak to an attorney at the border despite being a U.S. citizen, and threatened me that failure to immediately comply with their demand is a violation of federal criminal code 18 USC 111.
Those are the words of Andreas Gal, Apple engineer and outspoken defender of online privacy. Gal is a US citizen, not that you’d know that from the treatment he received from the CBP. Gal also has “Global Entry” status, which provides “expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.”
Global Entry is the CBP’s version of the TSA’s Precheck program. In both cases, the federal government is willing to respect a bit more of your rights in exchange for a lot of personal info and a bit of cash. You can see how well that’s working out for Gal, who was told he could not speak to an attorney and would be arrested if he did not allow agents to search his devices. In addition, he was told his Global Entry status would be revoked and was only allowed to exit the CBP’s custody by leaving his devices behind so the CBP could search them at its leisure.
CBP must ensure that its officers comply with the U.S. Constitution. Even at the border, the search of an electronic device is governed by the Fourth Amendment. To satisfy Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court law concerning electronic searches, any such search should be based on a warrant and be limited in scope to information relevant to the agency’s legitimate purpose in conducting the search. The attempted unconstitutional search of Dr. Gal’s devices illustrates that CBP’s policies do not in fact include the requirements necessary to safeguard the constitutional rights of people at the border.
The CBP has been given a lot of latitude to perform extensive searches at the border. But officers still need reasonable suspicion to demand US citizens unlock their devices for examination. Sadly, there’s still no warrant requirement at the border, even after the Supreme Court’s Riley decision. Multiple courts have held that securing our borders from threats like privacy advocates and Apple engineers is more important than respecting the rights the Founding Fathers said we were guaranteed.
The ACLU’s complaint letter suggests another complaint is on its way to a federal court.
There was no basis for Dr. Gal to be detained and interrogated by “TTRT” officers with special training in “counterterrorism response.” Dr. Gal entered the United States as a holder of Global Entry status, available only to “low-risk” individuals. And Dr. Gal has been an entrepreneur, technologist, and public figure for decades. Designating Dr. Gal for interrogation by “TTRT” indicates that Dr. Gal was targeted because of his exercise of his First Amendment rights in expressing viewpoints that may be disfavored by the federal government.
Compounding violations is never a smart move, but courts have handed so much Constitutional slack to border agencies, it will be tough to step over the pile of ignored rights to secure a victory. But every challenge edges us closer to a decision that may finally find the federal government isn’t free to ignore rights its supposed to be protecting just because there’s a border involved.
(Hat tip to Techdirt Insider Jeffrey Nonken who dropped a link related to this story into our Insider Chat. And a hat tip to all the Insiders in the chat who are always dropping useful and interesting links into the sidebar of this site!)