By: LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.
I just read a news article posted on the ABA Journal website about new border control search and seizure standards. Specifically, it appears the new government standards allow "[d]ocuments and electronic devices seized by border control agents [to] be copied without any suspicion of wrongdoing..." According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office, customs officers need to dispense with probable cause as a prerequisite to a search in order to effectively fight terrorism. Read the ABA Journal article by clicking here.
U.S. Customs and Border Protections Officers are responsible for ensuring compliance with customs, immigration, and other Federal laws at the border. Like in other law enforcement matters, CBS Officers previously needed probable cause before searching a person at the border or seizing their property. Probable cause is a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime. Requiring officers to have probable cause before they can search you is intended to help protect our privacy and basic constitutional rights. Under the new guidelines, if after searching and seizing someone's property, the officer doesn't have a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed, then the property is returned or destroyed:
"Officers may detain documents and electronic devices, or copies thereof, for a reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search. The search may take place on-site or at an off-site location. ... if after reviewing the information there is not probable cause to seize it, any copies of the information must be destroyed."
Apparently, uncovering vital law enforcement information about terrorism and other matters is more important than the suspension of our constitutional rights:
"...examinations of documents and electronic devices are a crucial tool for detecting information concerning terrorism, narcotics smuggling, and other national security matters; alien admissibility; contraband including child pornography, monetary instruments, and information in violation of copyright or trademark laws; and evidence of embargo violations or other import or export control laws."
This new policy means the government can seize your laptop, ipod, cell phone or other electronic device, and retain it in order to search it either on-site or off-site.... without any suspicion that you've committed a crime or committed any wrongdoing. Read the Department of Homeland Security's information about the new policies here. Alternatively, a new bill may require at least a "reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing" before searching and seizing your electronic devices, as recently reported by the ABA.
Now, I won't even pretend to know how difficult law enforcement jobs are - those men and women who fight terrorism and criminals in order to preserve our safety, security and freedoms are some of the most honorable men and woman I can think of. I support giving them the tools they need to effectively do their jobs. However, I know there are a lot of opinions out there on this new policy.
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