TSA Sued for Searching Travelers' Devices

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on March 16, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As travelers, we've gotten used to undressing for the TSA -- removing our shoes, belts, and jackets. We even submit to revealing body scanners. But now, it seems that the Transportation Security Administration wants to look under the hood of our personal electronic devices as well.

That's the subject of a recent lawsuit filed against the TSA by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They claim that the TSA has been searching these devices and has refused to give any information regarding their reasons for doing so.

What's the TSA Lawsuit About?

Back in December of 2017, the ACLU submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain information on the agency's protocols regarding device searches, but the TSA failed to provide any records or an explanation of its practices. Additionally, it appears that the TSA is now searching the cellphones and computers of people travelling domestically, not just those entering the U.S. from other countries. This lawsuit seeks to compel the TSA to respond to its request for that information.

Why the Fourth Amendment Matters

The TSA's job of screening passengers and keeping us safe is an important one. However, this legitimate goal must be balanced against passengers' right to privacy. We'd be safer if everyone was strip searched, but would we feel free? The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches of our bodies, homes, cars, and yes, our electronic devices, among other things. And while there are plenty of legitimate reasons for conducting searches (especially at an airport), a government entity can't perform any type of search it wants in the name of security without reasonable justification.

What's the Big Deal?

You could argue that a TSA agent glancing at your phone is no big deal. It's not like they're performing an airport breast exam or a cavity search. But most of us store highly sensitive, personal data on our phones and other devices. This lawsuit argues that they should at least explain why and how they're performing these searches, especially on domestic travelers.

If you believe your rights have been violated by the TSA, or if you have been charged with a crime while passing through customs, contact a criminal defense attorney for help.

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