Knight Institute v. DHS — FOIA Suit on Border Searches of Electronic Devices
Searches of cellphones and laptops by U.S. border agents have increased dramatically, rising from about 8,500 in 2015 to about 19,000 in 2016, according to press reports, and on track to total around 30,000 in 2017. These searches, which are conducted without individualized suspicion of wrongdoing, raise serious concerns relating to privacy and the freedoms of speech, association, and the press. In an effort to learn more about the government’s policies and practices in this area, the Knight Institute has sued to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The request seeks, among other things, policy documents relating to searches of travelers’ electronic devices and parts of a database in which border personnel record information about each device search they conduct.
In response to the lawsuit, the Knight Institute obtained a 92-page spreadsheet containing over 400 traveler complaints submitted between Oct. 1, 2011 to April 4, 2017, of which roughly 240 involved searches of electronic devices. These complaints reveal a range of discriminatory, demeaning, and gratuitously intrusive treatment that travelers have endured at the border, where border agents regularly force them to turn over a “digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives" without judicial oversight or even individualized suspicion.
Press Statements & Commentary
- 1/9/2018: CBP’s New Policy for Searching Devices Offers Thin Protection
- 12/22/2017: Warrantless Border Searches: The Officer "Searched Through...Intimate Photos of My Wife"
- 12/22/2017: Traveler Complaints Reveal Abuses in Border Searches of Electronic Devices
- 9/15/2017: We Need to Know More About Searches of Travelers' Electronic Devices
- 4/17/2017: Censorship at the Border Threatens Free Speech Everywhere
- 3/28/2017: Why is the Government Searching Cellphones?
- 3/27/2017: Press Statement on Filing of the Lawsuit
- 6/6/2017: Joint Status Report
- 4/19/2017: Amended Complaint
- 3/27/2017: Complaint
- 3/15/2017: Freedom of Information Act Request