Economy

USA government sued by 11 pissed-off travelers over computer searches

USA government sued by 11 pissed-off travelers over computer searches”

According to EFF's staff attorney Sophia Cope, electronic devices are nowadays the most sensitive centers of information and personal data storage, where people save "their whole lives, including extremely sensitive personal and business matters", which is the reason why they always carry them while traveling.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed the suit in a Boston, Massachusetts U.S. District Court on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens and one permanent resident. "The privacy interests in a smartphone are significantly greater than the privacy interests in a piece of luggage".

The number of such searches has dramatically increased in recent years: Customs and Border Protection conducted almost 15,000 such searches in the first half of fiscal 2017, compared to 19,033 in all of 2016 and just 8,503 in 2015, the groups say. From last October to the end of March, they affected fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the 189.6 million global travelers who arrived in the United States. According to the organization, this demand "challenges the government's fast-growing practice of searching travelers' electronic devices without a warrant".

"The government can not use the border as a dragnet to search through our private data", said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari. Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security and two of its units - Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement - are named in the suit.

DHS officials have asserted that USA citizens and everyone else are subject to examination and search by customs officials, unless exempted by diplomatic status.

A Nasa engineer and a retired US Air Force officer are just two of 11 people at the heart of a new lawsuit filed against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), accusing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents of "unconstitutionally" seizing devices.

The lawsuit has 11 plaintiffs - 10 are US citizens and the other is a permanent USA resident - including a US military veteran, a NASA engineer and journalists. "That chilling effect will be especially significant for racial and religious minorities and for journalists and lawyers whose work requires them to keep information confidential". Ten of the 11 are USA citizens with the outlier being a permanent resident. On his return to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport from a business trip in January, a border control kiosk printed a piece of paper with a black "X" across it rather than an entry document when he tried to cross the border, he said. It included details of his personal life, including photos of his five children and his wife, also a Muslim, without the hijab head covering she ordinarily wears when appearing in public. The government has still not returned his personal phone after more than seven months, he said. Four others had their devices seized. Border officers often use that environment, along with the threat of confiscating devices, to compel travelers to unlock devices or disclose passwords, the suit says.

"You are left in the dark with no answers", Allababidi said. "No government should go through our private stuff unless they have a warrant".

In this new lawsuit, the ACLU and EFF have provided examples of the impact the border search approach has had on law-abiding Americans. The ACLU/EFF's position is that the government must have a warrant - which itself requires a justification of "probable cause" that the individual is violating border laws - before any device can be searched.



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