Warrantless searches of electronic devices at the border, United States of America v. Hamza Kolsuz (Amicus Curiae).
The defendant-appellant is appealing the district court’s refusal to grant his motion to suppress evidence obtained from searches of his electronic device conducted by the government at Dulles International Airport and at an off-site facility without a warrant. The case originates in the Eastern District of Virginia, U.S. v. Kolsuz, 185 F. Supp. 3d 843 (May 5, 2016).
The government claims to have unchecked authority to search electronic devices without restraint at the border and subsequently, to conduct forensic searches at off-site locations, which is a problem for hundreds of millions of travelers entering and departing the country, most of whom are not involved in criminal activity. The ownership and use of portable electronic devices is pervasive, especially for travelers. Electronic devices contain great quantities of sensitive data, such as financial records and medical information, a vast warehouse of information. The government’s assertion of unfettered authority to search electronic devices without any individualized suspicion, much less a search warrant or probable cause, at the border creates an end-run around the Fourth Amendment protections. Because of the significant privacy rights at stake, we argued that the Fourth Circuit should establish a clear standard for searches of electronic devices at the border. Further, we argued that warrant should be required for such a search given the immense scale of the search and the vast amount of private information that can be accessed by the government or in the very minimum, probable cause should be established.
UPDATE 8/22/2018: We filed an amicus in the Fourth Circuit in March 2017. In May 2018, the Fourth Circuit ruled against the defendant and in favor of the U.S. government. The case is now closed.