UPDATE: Mr. Saboonchi was released from prison in January 2016 as part of President Obama's prisoner swap with Iran, and therefore dropped his Fourth Circuit appeal.
EFF filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit arguing that the Fourth Amendment requires a probable cause warrant for searches of digital devices at the U.S. border. Currently border agents may search cell phones, laptops, tablets and other personal mobile devices without a warrant and usually without any individualized suspicion that the traveler has committed a crime.
We argued that Riley v. California should apply to the border context. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the police may not search without a warrant the cell phones of people they arrest. Following the Court’s analysis in Riley, we argued that digital devices, unlike physical luggage, contain vast amounts of highly personal information, thus they should not be subject to the border search exception. Additionally, searches of digital devices at the border are not justified by the limited purposes of the border search exception: immigration and customs enforcement. Rather, they are generally for ordinary criminal law enforcement, which requires a warrant based on probable cause.