Federal Judge Makes History in Holding That Border Searches of Cell Phones Require a Warrant

Source: eff.org 5/30/23

With United States v. Smith (S.D.N.Y. May 11, 2023), a district court judge in New York made history by being the first court to rule that a warrant is required for a cell phone search at the border, “absent exigent circumstances” (although other district courts have wanted to do so).

EFF is thrilled about this decision, given that we have been advocating for a warrant for border searches of electronic devices in the courts and Congress for nearly a decade. If the case is appealed to the Second Circuit, we urge the appellate court to affirm this landmark decision.

Read the full article


Related posts

Notify of

We welcome a lively discussion with all view points - keeping in mind...


  1. Your submission will be reviewed by one of our volunteer moderators. Moderating decisions may be subjective.
  2. Please keep the tone of your comment civil and courteous. This is a public forum.
  3. Swear words should be starred out such as f*k and s*t
  4. Please stay on topic - both in terms of the organization in general and this post in particular.
  5. Please refrain from general political statements in (dis)favor of one of the major parties or their representatives.
  6. Please take personal conversations off this forum.
  7. We will not publish any comments advocating for violent or any illegal action.
  8. We cannot connect participants privately - feel free to leave your contact info here. You may want to create a new / free, readily available email address.
  9. Please refrain from copying and pasting repetitive and lengthy amounts of text.
  10. Please do not post in all Caps.
  11. If you wish to link to a serious and relevant media article, legitimate advocacy group or other pertinent web site / document, please provide the full link. No abbreviated / obfuscated links. Posts that include a URL may take considerably longer to be approved.
  12. We suggest to compose lengthy comments in a desktop text editor and copy and paste them into the comment form
  13. We will not publish any posts containing any names not mentioned in the original article.
  14. Please choose a short user name that does not contain links to other web sites or identify real people
  15. Please do not solicit funds
  16. If you use any abbreviation such as Failure To Register (FTR), or any others, the first time you use it please expand it for new people to better understand.
  17. All commenters are required to provide a real email address where we can contact them.  It will not be displayed on the site.
  18. Please send any input regarding moderation or other website issues via email to moderator [at] all4consolaws [dot] org
  19. We no longer post articles about arrests or accusations, only selected convictions. If your comment contains a link to an arrest or accusation article we will not approve your comment.
ACSOL, including but not limited to its board members and agents, does not provide legal advice on this website.  In addition, ACSOL warns that those who provide comments on this website may or may not be legal professionals on whose advice one can reasonably rely.  

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Excellent!! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻😃
(Now we wait to see if & how this ruling might apply to us internationally-traveling Registrants. 😒)

It’s a step in the right direction especially with todays technology, we use are Smart phones and electronic devices for everything. So I’m not surprised that this is the first court to rule that A warrant must be needed to go through electronic devices at the border, because this is law enforcement agencies number one tool in fighting crime the “cell phone”.
It doesn’t matter what the situation is, if you’re A suspect, the first thing Law Enforcement agencies are gonna do is get A warrant and seize your cell phone and electron devices.
This is why I recommend don’t buy very expensive Phones and electronic devices, I would just buy the very basic phone that does the very basic features, that way if you need to get rid of it it, you can just toss it.
Me personally, If I didn’t pay $500 for my iPhone, I would’ve ditched it along time ago because when I was homeless, The registering officers at the Long Beach Police Department were obsessed with my phone number, they were constantly asking for it, they would ask if my Number was still the same, and have me sign my initials on a piece of paper stating that this is my number.

This is good and a step in the right direction. However, when people (PFRs for example) are profiled under database, i.e., registry or conviction, circumstances without exigent circumstances being met and their electronics are searched without any of the aforementioned investigation conditions being met, then their rights are violated, especially when sent to secondary unnecessarily.

If everyone who has a conviction is not pulled into secondary and had their items searched because they merely have a conviction, then the search application is misapplied, and now especially without a warrant where justification exists for it. Being on the registry should not encourage this any further despite what courts have said is acceptable for reasonable suspicion of traveling PFRs.

“The Ninth Circuit in United States v. Cano (2019) held that a warrant is required for a device search at the border that seeks data other than “digital contraband” such as child pornography.”

And that’s the bottom line. Because many registrants were convicted of sex offenses “against children,” agents will always assume that registrants have digital contraband such as cp on their electronic devices. So that’s the loophole they will use to continue forensic searches. Remember, the Smith case still cites and goes along with the Cano decision. Also, the defendant Smith was involved in gang activity in the past, so he didn’t want the Feds finding out his communications with Blood members. It had nothing to do with cp or Smith being a convicted “sex offender.” That’s the only reason why he won the case. So nothing has really changed for registrants on this matter

last two times I have flown back into the US from an international trip, my electronic devices were not searched, and only one time had to go thru secondary. I am guessing here, wishful thinking maybe, but I think this will give them ‘less’ reasons to search an RSO. If you keep your mouth shut, be nice, do as they say and don’t offer a damn thing – first time this happened I was stupid and asked ‘was this because of my history’ as soon as I said that, they said let me see your devices. Won’t do that again! Expect it to happen, plan for it with extra time for layovers, but with your phone, as long as there is nothing on there to be worried about, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. That being said, I have thought about having a second one just for travel, as well as an apple watch in case you are thrown in airport jail, they will take your phone, but not your watch (at least that is what happened to me in Spain) – long story there, but Spain denied entry, fought it, judge let me in.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been on my radar for many years. I’ve often read their articles and have communicated via email with the group. At the heart of the frontier is database use. When it comes to this ubiquitous machine about the worst thing humans can do is enslave people to their maintenance. Unfortunately, the people were easily convinced to do otherwise. Even if my detractors at EFF.ORG believe that slavery is to strong a word to describe the relative disposition between the registrant man and gov machine, the obvious involuntary servitude inherent in the regime unquestionably constitutes a traditional form of punishment.

A federal judge attempting to make history is nothing new either.
We all recently read it happened when a Texas Fed Judge enjoined a complaint about the use of the drug Mifepristone, also known as the after sex abortion drug. SCOTUS stayed his injunction. So this quandry begs a question…Does that make the TX fed judge “famous” or “infamous” for having temporarily blocked the drugs use in the 6th circuits realm? The same question is begging in this device border search case.
Who benefits most from unfettered use and application of the database driven infrastructure?