And First Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch declared that the basic and advanced searches, which include reviewing and copying data without a warrant, fall within the constitutional basis permitted across the US border.
Lynch ruled against a group of US citizens and residents who objected to unfair searches of their electronic devices.
The group includes (Sidd Bikkannavar), a NASA scientist who was arrested and pressured to open a government-issued secure phone.
Most of the incidents date back to 2017, when the then president (Donald Trump) pushed for tightening security at the United States’ border along with travel bans and other restrictions.
But some happened earlier, reflecting longstanding concerns among the groups that backed the lawsuit, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.
A local court declared that the Customs and Border Protection office searches violated the Fourth Amendment by not requiring reasonable suspicion that the devices contained contraband.
Lynch disagreed, writing: Searches for electronic devices do not fit neatly into other categories of property searches, and in sum, basic searches for boundaries for electronic devices do not involve an intrusive search for someone.
Appeals courts have issued conflicting opinions about how electronic devices fall into the cross-border search exception, a rule that permits illegal searches that would otherwise be unconstitutional.
Customs officials can conduct basic inspections without reasonable suspicion, and they can conduct basic and advanced inspections without a warrant.
The exception is for finding prohibited people or unauthorized arrivals, but it applies to federal agents operating within 100 miles of the United States border, an area that covers most urban areas.
Civil liberties advocates argue that phones and computers contain an unprecedented wealth of information, especially if agents can retrieve emails or other material remotely from the device.
Lynch suggested that Congress or the White House could lay down more explicit rules, which might choose to grant more protection than the constitution requires, however, today’s decision reflects a decision previously considered a historic victory.
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed its dissatisfaction with the result, saying: Searches without permission can and without a doubt give border officers unrestricted access to vast amounts of private information about our lives.
He added: We are disappointed with the decision and are studying all options to ensure that we do not lose our privacy rights when traveling.