On May 1st, Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old doctoral student and dual U.S.-French citizen, was on an Amtrak train from Montreal to New York when a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer examined his two passports, which had visas for Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Although the officer had no reasonable cause to search and seize Abidor's property, he ordered him to turn on his laptop and enter his password so that his computer could be searched. The student was subsequently handcuffed, taken off the train, and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charge. 11 days later, he finally got his computer back. Welcome to America, American citizen!
Today the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Abidor and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), whose members include television and still photographers. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the Department of Homeland Security’s policy "permitting border agents to search, copy and detain travelers’ electronic devices at the border without reasonable suspicion. DHS asserts the right to look though the contents of a traveler’s electronic devices—including laptops, cameras and cell phones—and to keep the devices or copy the contents in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S., regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing."
When Abidor's laptop was returned, there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched. The ACLU's Melissa Goodman says, "Unchecked government fishing expeditions into the constitutionally protected materials on an innocent traveler’s laptop or cell phone interfere with the ability of many Americans to do their jobs and do nothing to make us safer." According to DHS documents obtained by the ACLU, more than 6,600 travelers, nearly half of whom are American citizens, were subjected to electronic device searches at the border between October 1st, 2008 and June 2nd, 2010.