Blog of Rights

No Fishing

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 5:53pm

Last week, we teamed up with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to bring a lawsuit challenging the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) policy that allows agents to search, copy and detain travelers' laptops (and cell phones and cameras and other electronic devices) at the border without any reason to believe that the search will turn up evidence of wrongdoing. These tactics amount to electronic fishing expeditions into the constitutionally protected materials on an innocent traveler's electronic device.

On Monday, the L.A. Times editorial about our case entitled "Congress must act to end electronic fishing expeditions at the border" stated: "The lawsuit is a worthy attempt to close a gaping loophole in the protection of personal privacy," adding:

The ACLU […] maintains that such searches of laptops and other devices violate both the 4th Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures and the 1st Amendment's protection of free expression. We agree. Searching a computer, which can contain a wealth of personal information, is much more intrusive than inspecting baggage for drugs, weapons or other contraband.

Former congressman Bob Barr chimed about the lawsuit today in his "Barr Code" blog on the Atlanta-Journal Constitution's site:

Conservatives love to hate the ACLU; but whether you’re conservative, liberal, libertarian, or “none of the above,” if you want to protect the privacy of your laptop computer and your Blackberry or i-phone against unlimited and unwarranted government snooping, you ought to write the ACLU a thank you note, if not a check.

[…]For the sake of every person who travels outside the country and who values their personal privacy — and on behalf of everyone who believes the Bill of Rights has meaning – let’s hope this latest lawsuit prevails and results in at least some check on this form of government abuse.

Catherine Crump, one of the ACLU attorneys who brought the lawsuit, wrote on Monday for McClatchy:

Everyone has an interest in a secure border. But purely suspicion-less searches do nothing to make us safer — on the contrary, they waste limited national security resources. The government has never produced any data to prove that searches of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing actually make us safer.

The L.A. Times op-ed points out that Congress must act to remedy this problem. We couldn't agree more: Contact you members of Congress today and them to stop electronic fishing expeditions at the border.

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