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Supreme Court Ruling Doesn’t End All Cellphone Searches

Regular readers of our site will know that we have addressed the subject of warrantless cellphone searches in the past. Most recently, our effort took the form of an article in which we highlighted that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of such searches.

Since then, as most may know, the high court ruled unanimously that such searches by police are, indeed, a violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures by the government. The problem is that there are holes in the protective umbrella — particularly for individuals entering the country and dealing with the U.S. Border Patrol.

Since then, as most may know, the high court ruled unanimously that such searches by police are, indeed, a violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures by the government. The problem is that there are holes in the protective umbrella — particularly for individuals entering the country and dealing with the U.S. Border Patrol.

As recently reported by The Washington Post, citing legal scholars, there is an exception to warrantless search provisions of the amendment — the border search doctrine. It’s meant to allow the government to stop contraband and possible criminal activity from getting into the country. And among the things that border agents may be allowed to do is conduct forensic searches of an individual’s phones, tablets or other digital devices without a warrant.

Such searches are not just the perusal of information on the device at the point of entry. In one case cited in the article, a U.S. citizen had two phones and a USB flash drive taken from him as he came into the country from Canada. The devices were then shipped off to a lab where federal officials used special software to make copies of each of the device hard drives. As a result, the man is now facing federal criminal charges of allegedly plotting to violate U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.

Court documents show that a lower federal court ruled that border agents “reasonably suspected” the man’s involvement in criminal activity in this case and so denied a motion to throw out the evidence gained by the warrantless digital search.

That all happened before the Supreme Court issued its decision this past June. The question many ask now is whether the high court isn’t likely to be asked to expand the reach of that ruling, especially in cases where there is no reasonable suspicion.

Such questions are of the type that experienced criminal defense attorneys know to press for the sake of their clients’ rights.

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