ACLU Seeks Records About Laptop Searches at the Border

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Rachel Myers, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Seeks Records About Laptop Searches at the Border

Border Patrol Policy Allows Officials to Search and Retain Information Without Suspicion

NEW YORK - United
States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policy permits officials to
search the laptops and other electronic devices of travelers without
suspicion of wrongdoing, according to a Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA) request filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union. The
ACLU filed the FOIA request with CBP, a component of the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS), to learn how CBP's suspicionless search
policy, first made public in July 2008, is impacting the constitutional
rights of international travelers.

"Based on current CBP policy, we
have reason to believe innumerable international travelers - including
U.S. citizens - have their most personal information searched by
government officials and retained by the government indefinitely," said
Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security
Project. "The disclosure of these records is necessary to better
understand the extent to which U.S. border and customs officials may be
violating the Constitution."

In July 2008, CBP issued its "Policy
Regarding Border Search of Information," which permits CBP to subject
travelers to suspicionless searches of information contained in
documents and electronic devices, including laptop computers. 

According to the ACLU's request,
giving the government unchecked authority to search travelers' personal
documents and electronic devices is a violation of Fourth Amendment
privacy rights and the First Amendment freedoms of speech, inquiry and
association.

"These highly intrusive government
searches into a traveler's most private information, without any
reasonable suspicion, are a threat to the most basic privacy rights
guaranteed in the Constitution," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney
with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. "Searching or retaining a
traveler's personal information - especially the vast stores of
information contained in a laptop or other electronic storage device -
could also have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and
beliefs."

The ACLU FOIA request seeks records related to:

•   
CBP's authority to search, review, retain and disseminate information
possessed by individuals who are encountered by CBP at the border;

•    the retention of documents or
electronic devices by CBP, including the number of documents or
electronic devices retained, the length of retention, the reasons for
retention and the ultimate disposition of retained material;

•    the dissemination of documents
or electronic devices to other components of DHS, other government
agencies, or persons or entities outside the government;

•    complaints filed by individuals
or organizations affected by CBP's policies or practices related to the
search, review, retention or dissemination of travelers' information; 

•    statistics reflecting the number of travelers subject to suspicionless searches of their information at the border; and

•    statistics reflecting the race,
ethnicity, country of origin, citizenship and gender of individuals
subjected to suspicionless searches of their information at the border.

The ACLU's FOIA request is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/39817lgl20090610.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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