Privacy: Does it exist in a technological era?

While the Fourth Amendment protects Americans and their devices from government intrusion, the same cannot be said for those who live at the border. (Hamza Butt/Creative Commons)

While the Fourth Amendment protects Americans and their devices from government intrusion, the same cannot be said for those who live at the border. (Hamza Butt/Creative Commons)

In today’s technological era, electronic devices have been subsequently used as instruments for storing ample amounts of personal and sensitive information. Nearly everybody has something private stored in their electronic devices, whether they are aware of it or not.

Fortunately, our Fourth Amendment right protects us and our devices. The amendment explicitly states that any government official must be granted a warrant or provide probable cause before conducting any search or seizure.

Unfortunately, for the mass amounts of U.S. citizens who own electronic devices those same privacy rights they are allowed in the states are not extended to the border. In fact, at the border the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the ability to override your Fourth Amendment right and download all data enclosed on your electronic devices. This is done through a Supreme Court sanction which allows the border to be an exception to searches.

The border almost appears to be its own entity in regards to how they handle the rights of both U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Despite the safety measures ensured by searching the devices of suspicious persons, no search should be conducted without probable cause accompanied by a warrant. No U.S. government institution should be granted the ability to supersede a U.S. citizen’s amendment rights. Our individual rights and protections should be of equivalent importance to our country’s safety.

Just last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Frontier Electronic Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in response to the unlawful search of 11 travelers’ electronic devices at the U.S. border.

The case, Alasaad v. Duke, consists of 11 plaintiffs, 10 of which are U.S. citizens and the other a lawful permanent resident. However, the majority of these law-abiding U.S. citizens are Muslims or people of color. They all had their electronic devices confiscated and kept by border control for several weeks or months. After waiting and waiting, all of them were cleared and no convictions were made. ACLU provides background to each plaintiff here.

The unlawful searches of these specific plaintiffs align with President Donald Trump Administration’s aggressive traveling and immigration policies enacted this past year. In an executive order issued by President Trump last January he states, “Border security is critically important to the national security of the United States.”

While I do agree that enacting policies that ensure the safety of our country are not to be dismissed, to what degree does national security override individual security? Or should it at all? Is the country more powerful than the individual if its laws can override an individual’s rights?

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced today that in the first six months of FY17, CBP searched the electronic devices of 14,993 arriving international travelers, affecting 0.008 percent of the approximately 189.6 million travelers arriving to the United States. CBP continues to process more than 1 million travelers arriving to the United States each day.”

The increasing number of searches is seen by U.S. Border Control and Protection as an effort to protect the American people. By further enforcing these laws, the BCP has been able combat terrorist activity, violations of export controls and visa fraud.

In a statement by CBP, they mention that their officers follow all constitutional laws when conducting searches, including ones regarding technological privacy. However, the law which ensures you of your right to be secure in your person and belongings doesn’t exist at the U.S. border.


Emma DeGrandi is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at emma.degrandi@uconn.edu.