David Kirkpatrick

September 8, 2010

Department of Homeland Security sued for illegal search and seizure

This is a long overdue lawsuit. Unbeknownst to many United States citizens, if you leave the country with an electronic device — like a smartphone, cell phone, camera, or more likely, a laptop — your electronics can be seized, searched and contents archived by the Department of Homeland Security with no due process other than a field officer deciding you might be a threat to the nation.

I’ve blogged about this very topic a couple of times — first back in June 2008 and again in September 2009 — and my sense of outrage at the privacy and civil liberties violation hasn’t abated. Sure we need to protect the nation and monitor who comes and goes into and out of the country, but with the due process that represents the best of America. In the post-9/11 world, policies like this are slowly turning the United States into a police state that would be unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers.

From the first link:

Civil liberties groups sued the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, alleging that the government should not be able to search, copy or keep the data on electronic devices carried by people crossing the border without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Layers (NACDL) announced on Tuesday that they filed a lawsuit against the policy, arguing that Americans “do not surrender their privacy and free speech rights when they travel abroad.”

DHS policy says that electronic devices such as laptops, cameras and cell phones can be searched as a matter of course, and that the border agents can copy the contents of the devices in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S. — even if the traveler is not suspected of any wrongdoing. Information obtained by the ACLU indicated that over 6,600 travelers — nearly half of whom are U.S. citizens — had their electronic devices searched at the border between Oct. 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010.

Update 9/10/10 — In the meantime, here’s a CIO.com article on getting your data across the border while avoiding the invasive scrutiny of the DHS.

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