The seizure of electronic devices at U.S. borders has prompted protests from travelers who say they must weigh the risk of traveling with sensitive or personal information on their laptops, cameras, or cellphones. Some companies have altered their policies to require employees to safeguard corporate secrets by clearing laptop hard drives before international travel. Today, the Washington Post reports, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus, two civil liberties groups in San Francisco, will file a lawsuit to force the government to disclose its policies on border searches, including which rules govern the seizing and copying of the contents of electronic devices.
They want to know the boundaries for asking travelers about their political views, religious practices, and other activities potentially protected by the First Amendment. The question of whether border agents have a right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts. The lawsuit was inspired by two dozen cases, 15 of which involved searches of cellphones, laptops, MP3 players, and other electronics. Almost all involved travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern or South Asian background, many of whom said they are concerned they were singled out because of racial or religious profiling. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said officers do not engage in racial profiling “in any way, shape or form.”