The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today demanding records about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s policy of searching travelers’ laptops without suspicion of wrongdoing. The lawsuit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn how CBP’s policy, issued last year, has impacted the civil liberties of travelers during the first year of its implementation.
“Traveling with a laptop shouldn’t mean the government gets a free pass to rifle through your personal papers,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “This sort of broad and invasive search is exactly what the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches are designed to prevent.”
In its policy, CBP asserts it is free to read the information on travelers’ laptops “absent individualized suspicion.” CBP claims the right to search all files saved on laptops, including personal financial information, family photographs and lists of Web sites travelers have visited, without having reason to believe a traveler has broken the law. Additionally, CBP’s policy extends to suspicionless searches of “documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices.” The policy covers all persons, whether or not they are U.S. citizens, crossing the border.
“Under CBP’s policy, innumerable international travelers have had their most personal information searched by government officials and retained by the government indefinitely,” said Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The disclosure of these records is necessary to better understand the extent to which U.S. border and customs officials may be violating the Constitution.”
The ACLU made an initial FOIA request for the CBP’s records in June. Today’s lawsuit seeks to enforce that request. Among the documents being sought by the ACLU are records pertaining to the criteria used for selecting passengers for suspicionless searches, the number of people who have been subject to the searches, the number of devices and documents retained and the reasons for their retention.
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The attorneys on the case are Crump, Schwartztol and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU National Security Project.
The ACLU’s FOIA request is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/39817lgl20090610.html
More information on this case is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/40847res20090610.html
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