More on the U.S. law enforcement warrantless seizures of private data of Americans

April 8, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

I’ve posted on this topic before, based on one of Glenn Greenwald’s articles. I am at a loss for any legitimate reason for the U.S. to seize, without a search warrant, private information of Americans who are in the process of re-entering the United States. This includes seizure of cell phones and laptops and demands for the passwords.  Greenwald’s newest report gives the shocking statistics:

A 2011 FOIA request from the ACLU revealed that just in the 18-month period beginning October 1, 2008, more than 6,600 people — roughly half of whom were American citizens — were subjected to electronic device searches at the border by DHS, all without a search warrant. Typifying the target of these invasive searches is Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen and an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student who was traveling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in 2011 when he was stopped at the border, questioned by DHS agents, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charges; those DHS agents seized his laptop and returned it 11 days later when, the ACLU explains, “there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.” That’s just one case of thousands, all without any oversight, transparency, legal checks, or any demonstration of wrongdoing.

Greenwald’s report also gives us details regarding a recent detention of award-winning film-maker Laura Poitras, who has been detained and questioned 40 times by U.S. Border Authority:

Each time this has happened in the past, Poitras has taken notes during the entire process: in order to chronicle what is being done to her, document the journalistic privileges she asserts and her express lack of consent, obtain the names of the agents involved, and just generally to cling to some level of agency. This time, however, she was told by multiple CBP agents that she was prohibited from taking notes on the ground that her pen could be used as a weapon. After she advised them that she was a journalist and that her lawyer had advised her to keep notes of her interrogations, one of them, CBP agent Wassum, threatened to handcuff her if she did not immediately stop taking notes.

Greenwald then details yet another incident, this one involving David House, an activist who helped found the Bradley Manning Support Network. The details are equally disturbing. There is some consolation, in that U.S. District Judge Denise Casper, an Obama-appointed judge in the District of Massachusetts, has reviewed allegations from a case brought by House and so far refused to dismiss House’ case against the United States. Other aspects of that case are less than satisfying, though, for those of us who still think that the First and Fourth Amendments are good ideas.


Category: Law Enforcement Abuses, Orwellian, Privacy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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