Alasaad v. Nielsen — Warrantless Searches of Electronic Devices at the Border

Electronic devices store enormous amounts of private information about a person’s thoughts, communications, associations, and movements. Yet border agents searched tens of thousands of travelers' devices last year, without first having to obtain a warrant or even articulate some individualized suspicion. The Knight Institute and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted an amicus brief in Alasaad v. Nielsen, a constitutional challenge to warrantless device searches at the border, brought on behalf of eleven plaintiffs by the ACLU and EFF.

The brief offers examples of the direct burdens on travelers’ First Amendment freedoms of speech and association, citing traveler complaints obtained by the Knight Institute through Freedom of Information Act litigation. It also explains the particular burdens these searches place on journalists, whose cell phones, laptops, and digital cameras contain sensitive newsgathering information, including information from confidential sources. Warrantless searches of electronic devices thus chill protected First Amendment activity, the brief argues—regardless of whether they occur at the border or down the street.