Groups Sue DHS Over
Suspicionless Laptop Search Policy
September 8, 2010 - The American Civil Liberties Union, the New
York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal
Defense Layers (NACDL) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging the
Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) policy permitting border agents
to search, copy and detain travelers' electronic devices without
baggage, and merchandise arriving in, or departing from, the
This is because
Custom Border Patrol (CBP) officers must determine the identity and
citizenship of all persons seeking entry into the
Various laws that
CBP is charged to enforce authorize such searches and detention (8
U.S.C.? 1357 and 19 U.S.C.?? 1499,1581,1582).
almost everybody carries a cell phone or laptop when traveling, and
almost everyone stores information they wouldn't want to share with
government officials ? from financial records to love letters to family
photos," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech,
Privacy and Technology Project.
Americans should not be made to feel like the personal information they
store on their laptops and cell phones is vulnerable to searches by
government officials any time they travel out of the country."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), whose members include television and still photographers, editors, students and representatives of the photojournalism industry; NACDL, which is a plaintiff as well as counsel on the case; and Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen who had his laptop searched and confiscated at the Canadian border.
"As an American,
I've always been taught that the Constitution protects me against
unreasonable searches and seizures. But having my laptop searched and
then confiscated for no reason at all made me question how much privacy
we actually have," said Abidor. "This has had an extreme chilling effect
on my work, studies and private life ? now I will have to go to
untenable lengths to assure that my academic sources remain confidential
and my personal dignity is maintained when I travel."
Members of both
NACDL and NPPA have also been subjected to the DHS search policy, which
interferes with their ability to do their work. NPPA members regularly
travel abroad with cameras, laptops and media storage devices to cover
global news stories, including wars, protests and foreign elections, and
rely on the ability to communicate confidentially with sources.
government fishing expeditions into the constitutionally protected
materials on an innocent traveler's laptop or cell phone interfere with
the ability of many Americans to do their jobs and do nothing to make us
safer," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National
Security Project. "Americans do not surrender their privacy and free
speech rights when they travel abroad."
by the ACLU in response to a separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
lawsuit for records related to the DHS policy reveal that more than
6,600 travelers, nearly half of whom are American citizens, were
subjected to electronic device searches between October 1, 2008 and June
The ACLU, NYCLU and NACDL filed their complaint against Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement John T. Morton in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
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