(New York, NY) – A federal court in Boston today ruled that searching phones and laptops at the border without suspicion is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. PEN America welcomed the new ruling, calling it an important step not only for privacy rights but for the open exchange of ideas across borders.

“This ruling represents a momentous defense of the basic constitutional right to express oneself without being subject to government surveillance or retaliation,” said Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “These groundless searches have not only infringed on people’s privacy, but they have risked creating a chilling effect on free expression for anyone who might pass through a U.S. port of entry. Such intrusive surveillance not only threatens our privacy rights, but also press freedom, artistic expression, and the open exchange of ideas across borders. PEN America welcomes this ruling as a victory against any effort to arbitrarily close the U.S.’s doors to people based on their viewpoints or their speech.”

PEN America first examined the state of surveillance practices in the United States with the report Chilling Effects, which analyzed the chilling effect surveillance has on writers who self-censor. As part of its work, PEN America has repeatedly decried the increasing surveillance of those who cross the border or who work on border-related issues. PEN America has also spoken out in instances where entry to the U.S. was barred based on social media and other content found on travelers’ phones, as well as on the broader policy of “extreme vetting.” 

The organization has also led discussions about the press freedom implications when the government monitors reporters who cover the border and provides legal training for journalists on these issues.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892