Border searches of electronic devices prompt FOIA lawsuit against Trump administration

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
By Paul Martin
28 Mar, 2017

Dramatic increase in border searches of electronic devices prompt FOIA lawsuit against Trump administration.

A group of First Amendment attorneys has filed suit against the federal government after a surge in electronic device data searches at US border crossings.

On Monday, the the Knight First Amendment Institute (KFAI) at Columbia University filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), seeking “statistical, policy, and assessment records regarding the government’s searches” involving electronic devices.

In a press release, the group states that they filed a FOIA request on March 15. When the request was ignored, they filed suit in US District Court for the District of Columbia to access the information.

The KFAI filed the request after Cynthia McFadden, senior investigative and legal correspondent at NBC News, released findings of a dramatic increase in American citizens who had their electronic devices searched at border crossings.

According to data provided by the DHS, the report found searches of electronic devices carried out by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents grew five-fold in one year, from fewer than 5,000 searches in all of 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016. More devices were searched in February 2017 than all of 2015.

CBP agents were reportedly demanding phones, laptops and other electronic devices to be handed over as well as pin numbers and passwords to social media accounts. Some citizens were even asked about their religion and ethnic origins.

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