Cases

Privacy

Alasaad v. Duke

1/5/2018: Click here for the ACLU’s statement on the Trump administration’s directive on border searches.


The ACLU of Massachusetts, the national ACLU, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without warrants at the U.S. border.

The plaintiffs in the case are 10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident who hail from seven states and come from a variety of backgrounds. The lawsuit challenges the government’s fast-growing practice of searching travelers’ electronic devices without a warrant. It seeks to establish that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause to suspect a violation of immigration or customs laws before conducting such searches.

The plaintiffs include a military veteran, journalists, students, an artist, a NASA engineer, and a business owner. Several are Muslims or people of color. All were reentering the country from business or personal travel when border officers searched their devices. They were not subsequently accused of any wrongdoing. Officers also confiscated and kept the devices of several plaintiffs for weeks or months.

Among the plaintiffs are Ghassan and Nadia Alasaad, both U.S. citizens and Massachusetts residents. In July 2017, the Alasaads and their children were returning from a vacation in Quebec, where their 11-year-old daughter had become sick. At the border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers questioned Mr. Alasaad and searched through his unlocked phone, detaining the family for hours.

After five hours, an officer ordered Ms. Alasaad to provide the password to her locked phone. The Alasaads objected, in particular because Ms. Alasaad is Muslim who wears a headscarf in public in accordance with her religious beliefs, and she has photos in her phone of herself without a headscarf. The CBP officer told the Alasaads that if they didn’t disclose the password to Ms. Alasaad’s phone, it would be confiscated. The Alasaads reluctantly wrote down the password. The officer then told them that they could remain longer while their phones were searched, or depart and leave their phones behind. Ms. Alasaad told the officer that a male officer could not search her phone because it had photos of herself without a headscarf. The officer told them that it would take two hours for a female officer to arrive, and then more time to search the phone. Based on what they were told, the Alasaads understood that they would need to wait several hours for their phones to be searched. Exhausted and desperate to attend to their daughter’s health, the Alasaads departed without their phones, about six hours after being initially detained.

The Alasaads received their phones approximately 15 days later. Soon after, Mr. Alasaad attempted to access videos of his daughter’s graduation. The phone displayed the message, “Sorry, this media file doesn’t exist on your internal storage.” This problem did not occur before CBP’s search and seizure of the phone.

The number of electronic device searches at the border began increasing in 2016 and has grown even more under the Trump administration. CBP officers conducted nearly 15,000 electronic device searches in the first half of fiscal year 2017, putting CBP on track to conduct more than three times the number of searches than in fiscal year 2015 (8,503) and some 50 percent more than in fiscal year 2016 (19,033).

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Get to know the plaintiffs

Media

October 12, 2017
La Presse: Border detainees, American suing the government
September 14, 2017
NECN: Border Security, Privacy and Your Rights
September 13, 2017
Vice: ACLU and EFF Sue Trump Administration Over Cell Phone Searches at the Border
September 13, 2017
Courthouse News: Homeland Security Sued Over Warrantless Tech Searches at Border
September 13, 2017
NBC: American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone
September 13, 2017
Law360: Advocates Sue Over Warrantless Phone Searches At Border
September 13, 2017
Ars Technica: Remember the artist whose iPhone was searched at border? He’s suing the feds
September 13, 2017
VTDigger: Vermont border at center of phone confiscation suit
September 13, 2017
Uproxx: The ACLU Is Suing Homeland Security Over Warrantless Searches Of Electronics At U.S. Borders
September 13, 2017
Mashable: The ACLU and EFF are suing the government over device searches
September 13, 2017
Gizmodo: ‘I Was in Severe Pain’: Lawsuit Alleges Illegal Electronic Searches and Physical Violence at US Border
September 13, 2017
Boston Herald: ACLU sues feds to end warrantless searches
September 13, 2017
Reason: Groups File Suit to Stop Warrantless Tech Searches at Borders
September 13, 2017
Fortune: ACLU, EFF Sue to Stop Phone, Laptop Searches at the Border
September 13, 2017
Axios: ACLU sues DHS over phone, laptop searches at border
September 13, 2017
SC Media: ACLU, EFF sue DHS over electronic device searches at border
September 13, 2017
Bloomberg: Trump Administration Sued Over Phone Searches at U.S. Border
September 13, 2017
The Verge: Detained NASA engineer is suing Customs over border search, with help from ACLU
September 13, 2017
Fast Company: The ACLU and EFF just sued the Trump administration over device searches at the border
September 13, 2017
Wall Street Journal: Border Cellphone Searches Targeted in New Lawsuit
September 13, 2017
New York Times: Forced Searches of Phones and Laptops at U.S. Border Are Illegal, Lawsuit Claims
September 13, 2017
Burlington Free Press: Couple detained at Vermont border crossing sue government over warrantless phone search
September 13, 2017
Washington Post: Agents are increasingly searching smartphones at the border. This lawsuit wants to stop that.
September 13, 2017
Press Release: ACLU and EFF sue over warrantless electronics searches at U.S. border

Legal Documents

September 2017 - ComplaintPDF

@ACLU_Mass