Thursday, August 27, 2009

ACLU Seeks (and Sues for) Information on Border Laptop Searches

As usual, the ACLU is on the front lines of the battle to protect the public from the growing power of government to bypass the 4th Amendment in the name of national security. One place this expansion of government power is especially glaring has been at, and even around the US border to Mexico. I guess its always easier to rationalize draconian, "constitution free" border policies when people are convinced they should be afraid of foreigners, terrorists, and of course, Mexicans.

Last year I wrote about the ACLU's efforts to challenge what were called "border patrol zones" - which essentially allow government agents to stop and question people anywhere without suspicion within 100 miles of the border. This little known power of the federal government to set up immigration checkpoints far from the nation's border lines came about after 9/11, when Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security the right to use some of its powers deeper within the country.

According to the ACLU last October, DHS had set up at least 33 internal checkpoints where they stop people, question them and ask them to prove citizenship. At that time I noted that if we allow these kinds of constitutional violations along our border, how long will it take before we start allowing them in the heartland? And I tend to be of the opinion that anytime we weaken the fundamental principles of our Constitution for ANYONE, we weaken them for EVERYONE.

As I also said, that as time goes by, and we see our right to privacy whittled away, watered down, or outright eviscerated, we similarly will see our belief in that right and principle weakened, our confidence in them shaken, and our reverence of them debased.

Now, ACLU has filed a lawsuit demanding that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) release details of its policy that allows the agency to search travelers' laptops at U.S. borders without suspicion of wrongdoing.

PC World Reports:

The FOIA request and the lawsuit seek details about the laptop search policy, including how many laptops have been searched since the CBP instituted its search policy last year, Crump said. "Traveling with a laptop shouldn't mean the government gets a free pass to rifle through your personal papers," she said.

The ACLU and other civil liberties groups have complained that the CBP policy violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, protecting U.S. citizens against unreasonable search and seizure.

The ACLU also wants to know how many laptops and electronic devices CBP has seized, how long CBP has kept those devices, and statistics about the race and ethnicity of the people whose laptops have been seized, according to the ACLU's FOIA request.


The CBP policy also allows the agency to conduct searches of "documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices," without suspicion of a crime.

Several Democratic members of the U.S. Congress have pushed for a change in the policy. The requested documents would be "enormously useful" for lawmakers debating the CBP policy, Crump said.

Another issue I'll be following...Click here to read the rest of the article.

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