The Asian Law Caucus and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed a joint lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over access to public records on the questioning and searches of travelers at U.S. borders.
Filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the suit responds to growing complaints by U.S. citizens and immigrants of excessive or repeated screenings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
ALC, a San Francisco-based civil rights organization, received more than 20 complaints from Northern California residents last year who said they were grilled about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, or associations when returning to the United States from travels abroad. In addition, customs agents examined travelers' books, business cards collected from friends and colleagues, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories, and sometimes made copies of this information. When individuals complained, they were told, "This is the border, and you have no rights."
"When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation's doorstep," said Shirin Sinnar, staff attorney at ALC. "The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process."
ALC and EFF asked DHS to disclose its policies on questioning travelers on First Amendment-protected activities, photocopying individuals' personal papers, and searching laptop computers and other electronic devices. The agency failed to meet the 20-day time limit that Congress has set for responding to public information requests, prompting the lawsuit.
Previously on Boing Boing:
* US Customs TSA confiscating laptops
* TSA apologizes to "blogesphere" for arbitrary gadget screenings
* Arbitrary TSA requirement: all electronics out of your bag (cables, too)