Fear and Loathing at the U.S. Border

20 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2012 Last revised: 25 Jul 2013

See all articles by Janet C. Hoeffel

Janet C. Hoeffel

Tulane University - Law School

Stephen Singer

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Date Written: October 2, 2012


In this paper, we argue that when technology crosses the border in the form of personal electronic devices (PEDs), there is a unique confluence of factors that requires a fresh look at the border search exception. International travel is now commonplace, or at least relatively routine, and personal electronic devices are ubiquitous and often necessary during travel. In this context, combining the Supreme Court’s refusal to question individual officers’ motives for a search with current border search law results in government searches which, we submit, are “unreasonable” under the Fourth Amendment. We demonstrate how the border search exception to the Fourth Amendment has never actually gone through a doctrinal development, and, as such, it is rather thoughtless. We show how the doctrine should appear if developed as an administrative search rather than a sui generis historical exception, and we demonstrate why the doctrine dictates that motive matters, at least when it comes to PEDs. Finally, we suggest that a correct Fourth Amendment analysis would allow a continuance of the suspicionless border searches that everyone undergoes, but that before a person can be targeted for a more intrusive, discretionary secondary search or seizure, agents must have at least reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Keywords: PED, personal electronic device, border search exception, Fourth Amendment search

Suggested Citation

Hoeffel, Janet C. and Singer, Stephen, Fear and Loathing at the U.S. Border (October 2, 2012). Mississippi Law Journal, Vol. 82, No. 4, 2013, Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 12-19, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Research Paper No. 2013-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2155885

Janet C. Hoeffel (Contact Author)

Tulane University - Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

Stephen Singer

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law ( email )

7214 St. Charles Ave., Box 901
Campus Box 901
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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