Two courts have reached conflicting rulings on the government’s authority to search and seize your mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices. A federal judge in New York said the government could examine and take your personal electronics at-will, speaking it is an inconvenience international travels have to deal with it. Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California, in March, ruled that reasonable suspicion is needed before the government can search or seize your electronics at the US border.
In the New York case, filed I 2010, Pascal Abidor was riding an Amtrak train from Canada to New York when Border Agents removed Abidor from the train in handcuffs, and questioned him for several hours and seizing his laptop, which they then held for 11 days without explanation. During that time, they combed through Abidor’s laptop and accused of removing some files.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Press Photographers Association joined Abidor in his lawsuit against the government, but Judge Edward R. Korman of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the case.
Saying the plaintiffs did not have standing because those searches are very rare saying, “there is not a substantial risk that their electronic devices will be subject to a search or seizure without reasonable suspicion.”
Judge Korman also questioned Whether travelers even need to take laptops with them and said there are other ways to “mitigate” potential loss of data during a search and seizure in today’s world that the plaintiffs could have used.
Critics of Judge Korman’s ruling mocked him by saying he needs to stick his head back into the sand. “To think the solution is to not bring a laptop is ridiculous if that’s the only way to protect me. This guy needs to wake up or stay in the sand and retire” said Jeff Addabbo, a privacy advocate in New York for the poor.
In a March 2013 case, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California reached the opposite conclusion, ruling that the government must have reasonable suspicion that someone is involved in criminal activity before they can search or seize personal electronics. Their ruling only affects Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
“The difference in rulings and thus, a difference in the application of the law in different parts of the country over the same issue, will force the issue to the Supreme Court most likely”, said Amy Greens, a defense attorney in San Francisco.
More Florida headlines here