A lawsuit has been filed in the Federal District Court in the Eastern District of New York that is challenging a Department of Homeland Security policy which allows border agents to search the laptop computers of people seeking to cross the border without any probable cause. This lawsuit alleges that the policy violates the constitution by infringing on right to privacy and free speech. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration took on a very expansive definition of what was permissible at border crossings to stop suspected terrorists from entering the country. In August of 2009, the Obama Administration affirmed the policy started by the Bush Administration. The broad authority given to border agents allows them to review information stored in a traveler's laptop, cellphone or other electronic device even if the traveler is not suspected of any criminal activity. The Plaintiffs are the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Press Photographers Association, and Pascal Abidor, a 26 year old doctoral student with dual U.S. and French citizenship who was on a train from Montreal to New York when his laptop was searched and confiscated by border agents. Abidor is studying Muslim studies at Montreal's McGill University. Abidor frequently travels all over the world as part of his studies. At an inspection point at the border of Quebec and New York he was asked to turn on his laptop and enter his password. They saw photographs he had downloaded from the internet involving rallies by Hamas and Hezbollah and was asked why he had this stuff on his computer. He was handcuffed and detained for three hours. His laptop was returned to him 11 days later. In exploring his computer he was able to determine that agents had looked through personal photographs and personal emails between him and his girlfriend. In addition, they had searched an external hard drive which he had used to backup his files. According to the lawsuit, 6,671 travelers with laptops were searched between October of 2008 to June of 2010. 45% of those were of U.S. citizens. What is most disturbing about this policy is that agents are allowed to share the information found on the computers with other government agencies. This was done 282 times from July of 2008 to July of 2009.
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