Civil liberties groups sue over electronic searches

Civil liberties groups sue over electronic searches

Robert Lemos 2008-02-07

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Asian Law Caucus announced on Thursday that the groups had filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for its invasive electronic searches at the border.

The civil-liberties groups filed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to gain access to any public records on the United States’ policy of questioning travelers and rifling through their electronic files at the border. Nearly two dozen residents in Northern California have complained of searches of their computers and cell phones when entering the United States, the groups stated in a press release. The groups filed a FOIA request with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol last autumn but have not received any information.

The residents claimed "they were grilled about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, or associations when returning to the United States from travels abroad," the EFF and ALC stated in a news release. "In addition, customs agents examined travelers’ books, business cards collected from friends and colleagues, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories, and sometimes made copies of this information."

The legality of electronic searches at the border has become an increasingly contentious issue. The U.S. government has argued in pending court cases that searching the laptops, mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) of international travelers at the border is allowed by the same legal power as its ability to search suitcases. The policy has helped the U.S. government to gather evidence against people traveling with images that violate child pornography laws. However, a recent case has supported a traveler’s right to not reveal his password to customs authorities.

Companies are increasingly creating explicit policies for employees that travel internationally so that business-sensitive information is not revealed by such border searches.

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