Newly disclosed U.S. government files provide an inside look at the Homeland Security Department’s practice of seizing and searching electronic devices at the border without showing reasonable suspicion of a crime or getting a judge’s approval.
The documents published Monday describe the case of David House, a young computer programmer in Boston who had befriended Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the soldier convicted of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks. U.S. agents quietly waited for months for House to leave the country then seized his laptop, thumb drive, digital camera and cellphone when he re-entered the United States. They held his laptop for weeks before returning it, acknowledging one year later that House had committed no crime and promising to destroy copies the government made of House’s personal data.
The government turned over the federal records to House as part of a legal settlement agreement after a two-year court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued the government on House’s behalf. The ACLU said the records suggest that federal investigators are using border crossings to investigate U.S. citizens in ways that otherwise would violate the Fourth Amendment.
The Homeland Security Department declined to discuss the case.
President Barack Obama and his predecessors have maintained that people crossing into U.S. territory aren’t protected by the Fourth Amendment.