Groups sue for information on U.S. border search policy
By Julia Cheever
February 8, 2008
Two civil rights groups sued the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security in federal court in San Francisco Thursday in a bid for
information on government policy on questioning and searches of
travelers entering the United States.
The lawsuit was filed by the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus
and Electronic Frontier Foundation under the U.S. Freedom of Information
The groups' lawyers said the suit was in response to growing
complaints about border agents' allegedly intrusive questioning
on travelers' religious and political beliefs and the inspection
and copying of private information on computers and cell phones.
Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Marcia Hoffmann said,
"The public has the right to know what the government's standards
are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include
vast amounts of personal information."
Asian Law Caucus attorney Shirin Sinnar said, "The fact
that so many people face these searches and questioning every
time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable
to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due
The lawsuit says the department and its subsidiary, Customs and
Border Protection, failed to meet a 20-day deadline for responding
to a request for information. It seeks a court order requiring
the agencies to provide records on questioning and search policies.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of
Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said
she couldn't comment specifically on the lawsuit.
But she said that in general, "Customs and Border Protection
is responsible for facilitating legitimate trade and travel while
at the same time enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws pertaining to
immigration, terrorism and all types of contraband."
Keehner said the agency therefore routinely "processes all
persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the United States."
Agents have always been able to inspect written materials for
items such as child pornography and it would be unreasonable to
exempt computers and other electronic media, Keehner said.