[By Mickey H. Osterreicher, Esq.]
A number of years ago, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) was an associational plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security regarding the suspicionless searches of laptops and other media storage devices belonging to citizens and, as importantly, to journalists entering the U.S.
Unfortunately, the judge, in that case, could not wrap his head around the concept that such devices are far different than searching a suitcase and he dismissed the lawsuit. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in another case in which we filed an amicus brief that cellphones and other similar devices may only be searched pursuant to a warrant inside the U.S.
In conjunction with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, NPPA is seeking additional information from any of our members who have had their cellphones, laptops, digital cameras, or other electronic devices searched by U.S. Border Patrol officers at the U.S. borders while traveling internationally. We are looking into legal issues related to a U.S. regulation that authorizes Border Patrol officers to search a traveler’s cellphones and other electronic devices at the borders without any basis for suspicion. The government enforces this policy against both American citizens as well as non-citizens, and there has been a sharp uptick in these types of searches over the past year.
The Knight Institute is a new non-profit organization that works to defend and strengthen freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through litigation, research, and education. The Knight Institute would like to learn more about people who have been searched and to explore the possibility of filing a substantive legal challenge on their behalf.
We are interested in hearing from any of our members (or others you may know of) who have experienced any of the following while traveling into or out of the United States:
* A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has asked to examine the contents of your phone, laptop, or any other electronic device, including asking you to unlock your device and/or provide a password to unlock your device.
* A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has examined the contents of your phone or other electronic devices, and/or has taken your device outside of your presence for a period of time.
* A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has sought to examine your social media postings on your device, including by asking you for social media passwords and/or user names or handles.
* You have reason to believe that a border patrol officer (or ICE officer) made a copy of the contents of your phone or other electronic devices.
* A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has kept your phone or other electronic devices for some period of time and then returned it to you.
We are interested in hearing from both citizens as well as non-citizens. Please send an email with a brief description of your experience and your contact information to email@example.com. We will keep your information confidential.
Mickey H. Osterreicher, Esq. is general counsel for the NPPA