US Customs and Border Protection has been under intense scrutiny in recent months over the detainment and separation of families coming across the Mexican border without qualification. But there have been many egregious cases laid against the department by US citizens for wrongful seizures and detainments.
One such suit was just filed in New Jersey and interlines with a big issue in law enforcement these days: the seizure of smart devices and the harvesting of personal data by the government.
The suit, as obtained by Ars Technica, tells the story of Rejhane Lazoja, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, who arrived on a plane from Zurich to Newark Liberty Airport in late February. As she was going through border control, Lazoja was directed by CBP agents into a room for lengthy questioning on her travels.
She was asked if she had any electronics and she gave her iPhone 6s to one of the agents. The agent asked Lazoja to unlock the device and she, not being given a reason why, declined — she had photos of her not wearing a hijab on the phone, a state of undress only to be seen by family.
After being directed to baggage claim, she was told that her phone was being confiscated by the Department of Homeland Security for analysis. Her legal counsel had only gotten the device back in early July, more than four months later. Lazoja asked DHS whether the agency made copies of her data and, if so, what legal justification they had to do so.
Lawyers for Lazoja say that her Fourth Amendment protections were violated multiple times: she was not given a reason for why her phone was confiscated; the length of confiscation was not warranted and; if there was any potential sharing of confiscated data outside of DHS, that would also be an offense.
While the lack of disclosure is troubling in and of itself, there has been clear reporting on the hacking equipment police departments have procured to crack into smartphones and extract data which could be used as evidence against a suspect.
The case goes to oral argument from September 17.