Court Ruling Limits Border Agents’ Ability to Search Cellphones in California, Arizona

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Border officials may examine a person’s cellphone for contraband, such as pornography, but may not search it to determine whether someone has committed a crime, a federal appeals court decided Friday.

The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to limit the ability of border agents in California and Arizona to search cellphones in the future. The decision affects the nine Western states in the 9th Circuit.

The decision also overturned the conviction of Miguel Angel Cano for cocaine importation because border agents searched his cellphone extensively in 2016 for evidence of drug crimes.

“Cellphone searches at the border, whether manual or forensic, must be limited in scope to a search for digital contraband,” 9th Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote for the court.

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