Trump administration sued over warrantless searches

Detained NASA engineer is suing Customs over border search, with help from ACLU

Detained NASA engineer is suing Customs over border search, with help from ACLU

The U.S. government is being sued over its practice of searching laptops and cellphones at the border and in airports.

"Our electronic devices contain massive amounts of information that can paint a detailed picture of our personal lives, including emails, texts, contact lists, photos, work documents, and medical or financial records", said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari in a statement.

The searches at airports and at the Canadian border are being carried out without warrants in violation of the Constitution's First and Fourth Amendments, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Boston.

The suit names Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Elaine Duke as the defendant alongside Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Kevin McAleenan and Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan.

None of the individuals has subsequently been accused of wrongdoing. "I anxious that border officers would read my email messages and texts, and look at my photos", she said in a statement. In the case, Alasaad v. Duke, two organizations will represent 11 individuals who had USA border agents search their computers and smartphones without any kind of warrant.

"The government can not use the border as a dragnet to search through our private data", ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari said in a statement. "This was my life, and a border officer held it in the palm of his hand".

An employee of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Bikkannavar was detained while returning from South America in February.

He previously gave agents the phone when crossing into Canada three days earlier, the rights group said. Officers then physically restrained him, with one choking him and another holding his legs, and took his phone from his pocket. "Will I get my phone back, did I do anything wrong?".

"I joined this lawsuit so other people don't have to go through what happened to me", Shibly said in the ACLU's statement.

The suit, filed in a U.S. District Court in MA, is being brought by travelers including a military veteran, a NASA engineer, two journalists and a computer programmer. "Border agents should not be able to coerce people into providing access to their phones, physically or otherwise".

Customs and Border Protection, which falls under DHS, has conducted searches of nearly 15,000 electronic devices in the first half of the 2017 fiscal year.

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