ACLU sues to block searches of electronic devices

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block the U.S. government from conducting searches of electronic devices at U.S. borders.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York against the Homeland Security Department, claims the policy violates the First and Fourth Amendments. The policy allows customs officials to search, detain and copy computers, mobile phones, cameras and other electronic devices of both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens.

The case was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old U.S.-French dual citizen and Islamic studies doctorate student, whose laptop was detained for 11 days and searched after he was taken off an Amtrak train in upstate New York. Other plaintiffs in the case include the defense lawyers association, which is also working as a counsel on the case and whose president-elect had her laptop detained and searched, and the National Press Photographers Association, a member of which had his laptop searched in 2007 without reason, according to the lawsuit.

"Unchecked 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," Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said in a statement. "Americans do not surrender their privacy and free speech rights when they travel abroad."

In a blog post, the ACLU said it does not oppose all searches of electronic devices, "but only that border agents should have some suspicion that the search will turn up evidence of wrongdoing before looking through all the private information that people have stored in their devices."

According to records obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act, more than 6,500 people, including nearly 3,000 U.S. citizens, had their electronic devices searched at U.S. borders between Oct. 1, 2008, and June 2, 2010.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. But in an August 2009 news release announcing its revised policy on electronic searches, the department argued that "searches of electronic media, permitted by law and carried out at borders and ports of entry, are vital to detecting information that poses serious harm to the United States, including terrorist plans, or constitutes criminal activity--such as possession of child pornography and trademark or copyright infringement."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.