Tulsa Attorney BlogPort of Entry Searches Defined

This Is a Well-Established Law

Video Transcribed: Hello, I am Brian Jackson, I am an attorney in Tulsa. I want to talk about an interesting topic today. There’s been a recent trend in the United States of people having their cell phones and their laptops searched, and the data dumped, at ports of entry into and out of the United States. This is interesting because it kind of raises some interesting privacy questions. However, one thing I wanted to really talk about is this kind of search and seizure in the context of the Fourth Amendment.

wirth lawNow, as I’m sure you’re aware, normally under the Fourth Amendment, you have a right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In other words, the cops can’t just stop you on the street and search you, normally, without probable cause. Although there are some limited exceptions in the form of the Terry frisk.

But they have to have some reason to do it is the point. And most of the time for a search, they also need to … at least if they want to search your home, or they want to search your business, or they want to seize computers or anything like that, they have to get a search warrant.

However, ports of entry into the United States are actually an exception to that rule. If you’re entering or leaving the … Well, if you’re entering the United States, the customs officials who would check you back in have the right to search whatever you bring with you, including any electronic devices. The courts have upheld the idea that, yeah, they can go through your phone and they can go through your laptop.

Well, what does that mean to the average traveler? Well, one thing to keep in mind is if you have something on your computer … I’m not necessarily saying anything illegal, but something that needs to stay private. For example, in my line of work, I handle a lot of information that is highly confidential on behalf of my clients.

Obviously, I don’t want customs and border patrol getting into that information. So I would need to take the precaution of not carrying something sensitive through a port of entry because of that issue. Because at a border entry point, you don’t have the right to refuse the search. And if you try it, they’ll probably detain you.

So if you know you have something like that’s sensitive, don’t take it in through a port of entry. You might also want to consider, if you have sensitive information on your phone, get a burner phone. Make sure there’s nothing on there that you care if they see. Because at a port of entry, you do not have the right to refuse a search.

That is pretty well-established law. And yes, they can search your phone. So if you are traveling, be careful what you carry on your phone. I’m just talking in general about sensitive stuff. I mean, certainly, if you are thinking about having anything illegal on your phone, while you shouldn’t, but you definitely don’t want to be carrying anything of a questionable nature through a port of entry on your phone or on your laptop, or any other electronic device, because you run the risk of getting searched and being caught.

Long and short of it is, be aware of that. If you’re going to travel abroad, whatever device you take through customs could be searched. They don’t need a warrant. They don’t need probable cause. They can just ask you to open it, and if you refuse to comply, you could be detained.

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