eDiscovery Daily Blog

After Woman’s iPhone is Seized and She Sues, Homeland Security Agrees to Delete Her Data: eDiscovery Case Law

An American Muslim woman filed suit and asked a federal judge to compel border officials to erase data copied from her iPhone.  Now, she has settled her lawsuit with the government because federal authorities have now agreed to delete the seized data.

As discussed in Ars Technica (Feds took woman’s iPhone at border, she sued, now they agree to delete data, written by Cyrus Farivar), in the case Lazoja v. Nielsen, attorneys for the woman, Rejhane Lazoja, filed what’s called a Rule 41(g) Motion, otherwise known as a “Motion to Return Property.”  Normally, this rule is invoked for tangible items seized as part of a criminal investigation, not for digital data that can easily be copied, bit for bit. But here, the plaintiff, asked the judge to return data that she already had already received 90 days after the seizure when her iPhone was returned, fully intact.

Lazoja’s case has raised new questions about the state of the law with respect to warrantless border searches, particularly in the wake of two notable Supreme Court cases that have dealt with digital privacy in recent years, Carpenter v. United States (2018) and Riley v. California (2014).  The government claims that it has the authority to search and seize someone’s device without a warrant – otherwise needed in the interior of the country. Federal authorities rely on what’s known as the “border doctrine.” This is the controversial but standing legal idea that warrants are not required to conduct a search at the border. The theory has been generally recognized by courts, even in recent years.

In this case, however, Lazoja settled her lawsuit with the government after federal authorities agreed to delete the seized data.  So, the unusual approach worked in this case.

So, what do you think?  Should deletion of seized data be covered by a Rule 41(g) motion?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.