Mayor of Stockton, CA detained by DHS at SFO, forced to give up laptop password

Mayor Anthony R. Silva was on his way back from a mayor's conference in China when the DHS border guards confiscated his laptop and phones and detained him, telling him he would not be allowed to leave until he gave them his passwords. He has still not had his devices returned.

The mayor says that DHS officers told him that border confiscations of devices were common.

The DHS will not acknowledge whether an investigation is underway, and will not confirm that they have the mayor's property.

The DHS first disclosed its policy on laptop searches at the border in 2008, which amounted to "we can take your laptop, or anything else, for no reason at all, forever, and disclose anything we find to anyone we feel like feel like."

This sparked fierce debate, calls for Congressional hearings and a lawsuit (as well as some self-help measures) at the time, but the DHS has not budged on its policy.

In 2013, the 9th Circuit ruled that suspicionless laptop searches at the border were illegal, but a New York federal judge ruled for the DHS later that year.

Border laptop searches are used by law enforcement to avoid the need to get warrants for other investigations; law enforcement agencies coordinate with border agents to identify people whose data they'd like to steal, but against whom there is not enough evidence for a warrant. When those targets cross the border, the DHS steals their devices, ghosts their drives, and turns the data over to local law-enforcement. Journalists are especially targeted using this method.

"We can't control what the mayor or his representatives say … but that won't dictate what we do or don't release to the media," Schwab said. "Our priority is assuring the integrity of the investigative process and generally speaking we don't acknowledge that an investigation is underway … unless or until charges are filed, arrests are made, or documents are publicly filed with the court that confirm a probe is taking place."

For his part, Silva said he's "happy to cooperate and comply with these inspection procedures if they are in fact routine and legal."

Silva, however, raised several concerns with the incident.

"I think the American people should be extremely concerned about their personal rights and privacy," he said. "As I was being searched at the airport, there was a Latino couple to my left, and an Asian couple to my right also being aggressively searched. I briefly had to remind myself that this was not North Korea or Nazi Germany. This is the land of the Free."

Silva went on to say that he is "confident that any forensic search of my personal devices will never ever show illegal or inappropriate activities of any sort."

Stockton mayor was briefly detained on return flight from China
[Hamed Aleaziz/SF Gate]