ACLU: Government has been searching phones, laptops at borders - WFSB 3 Connecticut

ACLU: Government has been searching phones, laptops at borders

The American Civil Liberties Union has claimed Customs and Border Protection is searching people's electronic devices, like their cell phones and laptops, at border checkpoints. So is this an overstep or a necessary security measure?

Whether you frequent the border or not, what the ACLU said they've uncovered in their latest lawsuit, could have big implications for Arizonans.

"They have been conducting what we call suspicion-less searches of individuals and they've been seizing their property," said Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. She said the government's own records that they received through their lawsuit show 4,957 passengers have had their electronic devices searched between October of 2012 and August of 2013.

"We've had individuals who've had their computers seized, religious items seized," Soler said. She said many of the people flagged are not even accused of any wrongdoing. So what are the feds looking for?

"They say that they're using and exercising this authority to protect our nation's borders," Soler said. But she said they do not believe that is the entire reason. Their client, for example, claimed his devices were seized and kept for a long period of time while he was the subject of a state department investigation.

And while many people we spoke with were willing to sacrifice some privacy for national security, not everyone agrees.

"It's a horrible thing to sacrifice someone's personal privacy in order to make your job easier," said Chris Marrinan.

The ACLU said they plan on working with Congress to stop this alleged practice.

Customs and Border Protection sent us this statement in response, saying,
"Before any individual is permitted to enter the United States, CBP checks all relevant national security and criminal databases to ensure that the applicant meets the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act for admission to the United States. If there is derogatory information about an individual, which may be developed through any number of ways, including information referred by other law enforcement or intelligence community partners, CBP may conduct additional screening to determine the individual's admissibility to ensure the individual is not a national security or public safety risk. Any allegations about the use of the CBP screening process at ports of entry for other purposes by DHS, are false. DHS has revised policies regarding border searches of electronic devices to protect travelers' interest. However, these checks are essential to enforcing the law, and protecting national security and public safety – always with the shared goals of protecting the American people while respecting civil rights and civil liberties."
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