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Lawmakers propose law requiring warrants to search electronics at US border

Enlarge / Pedestrians crossing the northbound US border from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Ysidro, California. People crossing the border are subject to having their electronics searched by US authorities. No warrant is needed. (credit: Punxsutawneyphil)

There's a big area in the US where the Constitution doesn't apply, at least when the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is concerned. It's called the US border, or port of entry. In that area, you and your electronic devices, whether you're coming or going to the US, can be searched without reason. You even can be forced to unlock or decrypt a device so the authorities can comb through your life, like your social media accounts, cloud accounts, you name it. This intrusion is known as the "border search exception" to the Fourth Amendment.

This invasive practice is on the rise, too. Consider that the Department of Homeland Security said it searched fewer than 5,000 mobile phones at the border without a warrant in 2015. The number mushroomed to 25,000 last year. And for the month of February, the DHS reports that it has already searched 5,000 devices of Americans and foreigners without a warrant at a border crossing.

Now, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is proposing the unthinkable. Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday floated legislation requiring US Customs and Border Protection agents to get a court warrant to search electronic devices. That's right—in an era when you can be accused of publishing fake news for even questioning the government, a few members of Congress want to expand your civil rights and require a judge to sign off on a device search.

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U.S. Appeals Court Says No Warrant Needed to Obtain Location Data from Carriers


A United States appeals court ruled on Tuesday that law enforcement officials are not required to obtain a warrant to get access to a cellphone’s location data, as long as they obtain it from the wireless carrier.

U.S. Appeals Court Says No Warrant Needed to Obtain Location Data from Carriers


The ruling was made possible because of a long-standing legal theory, working on the premise that the information is already being shared with a third party — specifically the carriers, Reuters said. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virg. voted 12 to 3 in favor of the decision, overturning a split opinion from three judges at the court in 2015.

The legal battle sprang from a series of armed robberies that took place in the Baltimore area in 2011. Police obtained 221 days of cellphone data from Sprint, which included around 29,000 location records. The data was used as evidence to ultimately convict two suspects in the robberies.

Judge Diana Motz, writing for the majority opinion in the ruling, said the decision doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment, as cellphone owners know they are sharing their location data with their carrier.

Judge James Wynn, writing for the dissenting judges, held the opinion that cellphone owners do not actively choose to share their location with the carrier, and any data related to such sharing should be exempt from the third-party sharing theory.

Tuesday’s ruling may not be the last word on the subject, as the Supreme Court could be forced to rule on the case, due to lower court challenges.

Judge: If feds find drugs on your car, pics of cash on your phone, you’re suspicious

(credit: Omar Bárcena)

A judge in southern California has ruled that a recent federal agents’ search of a man’s cellphone as he was crossing into the United States was entirely lawful.

The case, known as United States v. Caballero, involves a man who was driving into the US from Mexico and attempted to cross the border at Calexico (Imperial County) on September 28, 2015. While at the checkpoint, a dog alerted agents to the presence of narcotics on the man’s car. The government is now accusing Sergio Caballero with importation of over 33 pounds of methamphetamine, and 2.75 pounds of heroin inside the gas tank.

The government brought the criminal case that same day. However, approximately two months later, Caballero’s public defender attempted to suppress the search of the phone, which revealed a photograph of a large amount of cash. The defense attorney, Nathan Feneis, argued that the search of his client’s phone was illegal under the Supreme Court decision, Riley v. California. That 2014 decision found that law enforcement generally does not have the right to search a phone belonging to someone who is arrested without a warrant.

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Video rental past due for 14 years leads to arrest of NC man

A Concord, North Carolina man has been arrested on suspicion of failing to return a video rented 14 years ago. James Meyers is accused of failing to return a rented tape to a video store that no longer exists, according to local media and his own account on YouTube.

Meyers said he was pulled over Wednesday, allegedly for having a taillight out. A Concord police officer ran a background check, and that's when an outstanding warrant surfaced. The arrest warrant was for Meyers being well over a decade late in returning Freddy Got Fingered, a comedy starring comedian Tom Green.

"He goes, 'Sir, I don’t know how to tell you this, but there’s a warrant for your arrest from 2002. Apparently, you rented a movie Freddy Got Fingered and you never returned it... And we’re here to take you to jail,'" Meyers said of the incident with a Concord police officer.

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California cops, want to use a stingray? Get a warrant, governor says

(credit: Davide D’Amico)

On Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that requires police get a warrant to use a stingray during investigations. The devices, which are also known as cell-site simulators, are usually used to locate a phone but can also in some cases intercept calls and text messages.

The law, known as the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act, imposes other sweeping new requirements to enhance digital privacy, and imposes a warrant requirement before police can access nearly any type of digital data produced by or contained within a device or service.

“Governor Brown just signed a law that says ‘no’ to warrantless government snooping in our digital information. This is a landmark win for digital privacy and all Californians,” Nicole Ozer, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of California ACLU, said in a statement. “We hope this is a model for the rest of the nation in protecting our digital privacy rights.”

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