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Suit to Seek Government Policy on Laptop Border Searches

Posted Feb 7, 2008 11:39 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Two civil liberties groups plan to file a lawsuit today seeking information on government policies regarding border searches of laptops and other electronic devices.

The suit will be filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Asian Law Caucus, the Washington Post reports. The groups say the suit was spurred by 24 border searches, including 15 involving searches of cell phones, laptops, MP3 players and other electronics. Many involved travelers with Muslim, Middle Eastern or South Asian backgrounds.

The suit also asks the government to reveal its policies for asking travelers about their political and religious views.

The government gave some indication of its search policy in a pending child-pornography case before the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The government brief contends it has the same authority to search a laptop at the border as it does a suitcase.

But child pornographers and terrorists aren’t the only people caught up in the searches. The Post talked to a therapist who said her cell phone messages were erased by a border agent and a marketing executive who said the government seized her laptop at Dulles International Airport more than a year ago, and still has not returned it.

News reports about laptop searches have prompted at least one law firm, Blaney McMurtry of Toronto, to require its traveling lawyers to carry laptops that have been scrubbed of any data.

EFF has recently been in the news for challenging the government’s warrantless surveillance program, and has something of a cult following, California Lawyer reported in a profile of the organization.

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