NY suit challenging laptop searches is tossed

January 1, 2014 by Tom Hays

U.S. border agents should have the authority to search laptop computers carried by news photographers and other travelers at international border crossings without reasonable suspicion, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled Friday.

In a written decision, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman granted a government motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by civil rights attorneys that claimed the practice was unconstitutional and sought to have it halted.

Korman found that the plaintiffs hadn't shown they suffered injury that gave them standing to bring the suit. He also cited previous rulings finding that the Fourth Amendment constitutional right against unreasonable searches doesn't apply to the government's efforts to secure international borders from outside threats.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers had filed the suit on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association, criminal defense lawyers and a college student: Pascal Abidor, a French-American citizen whose was confiscated at the Canadian border.

In a statement, an ACLU attorney said the organization was considering an appeal.

"Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight," said the lawyer, Catherine Crump.

The decision on Tuesday took sharp aim at claims by the and the others that the searches by the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection could unmask confidential news sources or reveal sensitive professional or personal information. Abidor alleged that an inspection of a computer containing research he'd done abroad on the modern history of Shiites "had an extreme chilling effect on my work, studies and private life."

Abidor "cannot be so naive to expect that when he crosses into Syrian or Lebanese border that the contents of his computer will be immune from searches and seizures at the whim of those who work for Bashar al-Assad or Hassan Nasrallah," the judge said, referring to the president of Syria and leader of Hezbollah.

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4.8 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2014
Abidor "cannot be so naive to expect that when he crosses into Syrian or Lebanese border that the contents of his computer will be immune from searches and seizures at the whim of those who work for Bashar al-Assad or Hassan Nasrallah," the judge said

I don't understand the logic of the judge's argument. Is the judge saying that Assad's men and Hezbollah provide models of conduct for US officials? Or that whatever they do, the USA will, too? If the argument is valid, the judge should still agree if the content is changed a bit, for example like this:
Abidor cannot be so naive to expect that when he is arrested by Assad's police he is safe from torture.
Would that justify torture by American authorities?
1 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2014

The Judge is not saying we should pattern our behavior after terrorists or dictators. He said that because it is necessary for the Government to perform such searches in order to optimize counter-terrorism efforts.

The difference between "us" and "them" is that they would kidnap you and torture or behead you. All that happened in this case in the U.S. is they checked to make sure the guy wasn't a terrorist, and then they let him go. No big deal.

The law already gives even local police the power to detain you, without charges, for up to 24 hours. They can assure you, they can check your wallet, phone, and computer if it's in your possession, apparently without filing any charges. If have a MINOR traffick violation, they can search your car for anything like photos, drugs, guns, etc, without a warrant, which is evidence that historical precedent does not make the 4th amendment some sort of invincibility shield against investigatie
3 / 5 (2) Jan 01, 2014
Why aren't these journalists encrypting their drives?
5 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2014
kochevnik: Good question. If I had anything on a portable (and potentially losable) computer I didn't want others to read that's what I'd do.

Onthe other hand, any hacker who does get into my home computer is going to be very disappointed. Anything secret isn't put on the computer! I'm still very much a pen and paper type.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2014

Your comments are misleading. The police are supposed to arrest if they have specific reasons to suspect a crime has been committed. The fact that they have 24 hours to press charges is not the same as giving them a carte blanche.

And yes, it is a big deal for the authorities to seize property without specific cause. In most developed countries it is illegal.

The fact is that American civil protections have been eroded by right wing Republican paranoia and subservience to governmental authority.

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