Privacy Law

US brief opposes lawyer who objected to border searches of his cellphone

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The federal government is opposing a Texas immigration lawyer’s request for an injunction to prevent warrantless border searches of his electronic devices.

Immigrant lawyer George Anibowei appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans after a federal judge denied an injunction in January, Law360 reports.

The government’s brief, filed July 22, argues that the lower court decision was not abuse of discretion, given Anibowei’s “novel theory” on a warrant requirement.

“Plaintiff George Anibowei sought a preliminary injunction under a theory that a warrant is required before a cellphone may be searched at the border,” the government brief said. “But as the district court correctly noted, no decision from this court or the Supreme Court has ever imposed such a requirement.”

Anibowei said border officials have searched his cellphone five times over a four-year period. In October 2016, the contents of his device were copied for examination, Anibowei said. His suit challenges the 2016 search, conducted at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The government said Anibowei’s phone was returned to him immediately after the DFW airport search. Anibowei would have known if any copied information caused irreparable harm, but he instead offered “only generalities about speculative threatened harm,” the government argued.

Privacy expectations are lower at the border, the government said. “Routine border searches do not require even reasonable suspicion or probable cause, much less a warrant,” according to the brief.

Some courts have required individualized suspicion for forensic searches of electronic devices at the border, but they still reject the warrant requirement urged by Anibowei, the government brief said.

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