September 29, 2008

Legislation serves both individual privacy and national security

Contact:  (202) 675-2312,

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union was pleased to see the Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S. 3612, with Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) signing on as original cosponsors, while Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced H.R. 7118. The proposed legislation is a response to the troubling stories that Americans reentering the United States have had their personal belongings, such as laptops, cell phones and digital cameras, confiscated and searched without probable cause. The Senate and House bills raise the privacy protections for travelers without sacrificing national security at our borders.

“The Bush administration has sought to undo over twenty years of legal protections by searching personal electronics without probable cause,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We applaud the introduction of this legislation and call on Congress to act quickly on this crucial issue for travelers. In today’s world, laptops, cell phones and digital cameras are the storehouses for our most personal information. We cannot allow our privacy to be breached under the guise of border security.”

In July, DHS made public its policies regarding searches at the border. These expansive policies now allow the copying of books, documents and data, as well as intrusive questioning, all without probable cause and in conflict with decades of legal precedents. The Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act restores those privacy protections, while still enabling federal border agents to retain foreign intelligence information by obtaining a warrant.

“Congress cannot allow DHS and CBP to turn our borders into Constitution-free zones,” added Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Americans have the constitutional right to privacy, and that includes the sensitive and personal information we keep on electronic devices. DHS has been rolling back these privacy safeguards, and doing so without proper oversight and public review. Senator Feingold’s much-needed bill seeks to restore our fundamental protections. Furthermore, it allows for overdue congressional oversight and a public discussion concerning our border security.”

To see the Washington Post story this week on the expansion of powers at the border, go to:

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