Lawsuit challenges abusive government laptop searches

Conservatives love to hate the ACLU; but whether you’re conservative, liberal, libertarian, or “none of the above,” if you want to protect the privacy of your laptop computer and your Blackberry or i-phone  against unlimited and unwarranted government snooping, you ought to write the ACLU a thank you note, if not a check.

The ACLU last week teamed up with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) in filing a lawsuit against the federal government, to stop the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its component agencies (Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement) from demanding that people (including United States citizens) entering the U.S., turn over their laptops and other electronic devices so that agents can peruse the devices and gather whatever information they wish.  The government asserts that since the searches are taking place at border crossings and other ports of entry, it has an absolute right to engage in such warrantless and intrusive searches simply because they take place at the border.

While common sense and the Fourth Amendment’s guarantees that people are free from unwarranted and unreasonable government searches and seizures are turned on their head by the government’s rationale, federal courts generally have permitted the feds to do so.

The case of a doctoral student attending Canada’s McGill University’s Islamic Studies program, however, may change all that.  This is the case that caught the eye of both the ACLU and the NACDL.  The student, Pascal Abidor, was travelling on a train from Montreal to New York last May, when his laptop was taken from him by Customs and Border Patrol agents.  It was returned to him 11 days later, and he discovered everything in the unit’s files and on the external hard drive had been examined.  The apparent reason why Abidor was subject to such abuse was simply because his passport contained entry stamps for various Middle Eastern countries — not surprising for a student majoring in Islamic Studies, but enought to cause the border agents to sharply question him; handcuff and detain him for several hours; and forcibly seize his laptop and download everything in it.  He was not charged with or suspected of any crimes.

Abidor’s case is similar to thousands of others that occur each year as federal border and customs agents exercsie the free rein they currently enjoy to seize computers and other electronic devices (including cell phones and digital cameras) based on nothing more than where someone might have travelled, or what they might be studying.  For the sake of every person who travels outside the country and who values their personal privacy — and on behalf of everyone who believes the Bill of Rights has meaning – let’s hope this latest lawsuit prevails and results in at least some check on this form of government abuse.

28 comments Add your comment

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September 15th, 2010
7:36 am

I’d rather someone search my computer than have my family witness my televised beheading by some scroungy, unwashed maniac from a non-toilet paper using society. The incident you described doesn’t sound “unwarranted.” Now, allowing an armed FBI agent to board an airplane but confiscating his nail clippers . . . that’s another story. Protect me from our enemies but don’t advertise how stupid you are.

First McFirsterson

September 15th, 2010
7:45 am


September 15th, 2010
7:49 am

I’m not sure what to think about a gov’t. that will detain, confiscate, examine and interrogate someone with a passport containing entry stamps from various Middle Eastern countries, while at the same time allowing the building of a Victory Mosque near Ground Zero that will surely be frequented by people with passports containing entry stamps from various Middle Eastern countries. Unbelievable!!!

jim jones

September 15th, 2010
8:07 am

What happened to you Bob?


September 15th, 2010
8:41 am

The government tried to do something like that to me and I didn’t do anything either, man…I was inn-o-cent!!!!


September 15th, 2010
10:03 am

Let’s see, a government that confiscates your laptop and downloads all the information out of it then returns it 11 days later. Sounds like Iran or Saudia Arabia to me. Is this where we want to go? Devildog, the chances are so much greater your family would see you die in a car wreck, all mangled up than you being beheaded by anyone. I worry the fear this country is now showing is the fear we have lost this fight against extremeist – if we shut down our borders, we are no better than the country they come from – and we have lost.


September 15th, 2010
10:18 am

Just as a point of common sense, we need *more* people majoring in Islamic studies so we can understand Muslim countries–not fewer. But if we make lives difficult for those who choose to gain this important expertise, only a fool will go into the field.

It’s time for common sense in government, which is why I’m a Democrat.

Not an ACLU fan

September 15th, 2010
10:33 am

I’m not a fan of the ACLU, but it does consistently come out on the side of a conservative view of the Constitution.

That’s not to say its positions are “conservative” in today’s politics, rather that it tries to limit the expansion of power through perversions of the Constitution. All real conservatives should support the ACLU for its attempts to protect the Constitution.

Unfortunately, conservatives are no better than liberals when their ideals and policies appear to be in conflict with the Constitution, and they may be worse.

And to Shannon, I would never use the term “common sense” as an attribute of either political party.

Mr. Spock

September 15th, 2010
10:38 am

“Unfortunately Captain, it appears that in the evolution of the American system of government, common sense and politics are not logical.”

Bryan G.

September 15th, 2010
10:41 am

Devildog -

So…it’s okay that a kid was handcuffed and detained for a few hours when he hadn’t done anything wrong? If that’s the kind of country you want, then I fear for the U.S.


September 15th, 2010
10:42 am

BRAVO. Enough is enough. Thank you ACLU

Old Man

September 15th, 2010
11:31 am

DevilDog, it’s not about you. I personally would rather watch you get beheaded by one of those people who scare you so! If these warrant-less searches prevent this from happening to you, they are burdening the free market. Violence sells!


September 15th, 2010
11:37 am

Devildog – I doubt you are a true Devildog since no part of your statement is consistent with the oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies… “. Here’s another quote for you – “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Ben Franklin

If we trample civil rights in the interest of expediency and fighting terrorist then we have destroyed our liberty and given them what they want. They hate and fear our freedom more than anything else.

Junior Samples

September 15th, 2010
11:43 am

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled hard drives yearning to be free.

Supreme Being

September 15th, 2010
11:50 am

Old Man … thank you for proving you are not capable of an original thought


September 15th, 2010
1:41 pm

Even a blind squirrel will find an acorn every now and then.

Ever so often, the ACLU will get one right. Still doesn’t make up for all the perverted, politically correct crap that spews out of that organization.

ACLU is fine with discriminating against white folks with affimative action. ACLU is fine with gun control.

“Uh, 2nd Amendment? What’s that?”

No, I’m not a fan of the ACLU and really don’t see me writing them a check anytime soon.

Bryan G.

September 15th, 2010
3:38 pm

Lee -

Actually the ACLU down in south Georgia filed suit for a kid who wore a shirt with a confederate flag on it to school. So, they support the “white folks”, too.

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September 15th, 2010
4:33 pm

Bryan, like I said, even a blind squirrel…..


September 16th, 2010
9:07 am

On August 18, 2009, the Obama administration issued new directives on the inspection of electronic devices[lap top computers].
1- That a supervisor be present during searches
2- The travelers laptop can be kept if there is probale cause.
3- information kept must be destroyed within 7 days.
4- the traveler can be in the room when the search is conducted.
5 medical, legal or journalists work, guards must consult homeland security.
6- there is a 30 day limit on detention of media and devices.
This is all for the protection of the travelers rights. From the column I just read, it is made to appear that homeland security is running amuk without regard for the travelers rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a sue happy populance, anything for buck. It is litigation that is running and ruining the country.


September 16th, 2010
10:10 am

Now hold on just a doggone momentstatino. Are you saying that there are societies that don’t squeeze the charmins?

Maybe all their wetwipes were seized at the border by crack border guards. I hear tell that soon our clothes will be computers. It’s possible that we’ll have to surrender our edible panties at the canadian border in the coldness of January.

Why doesn’t somebody do something to stop this madness?: I feel enough drafts down there without suffering the indignity of a border crossing strip search.

I know not how others may feel, but give me BVDs or give me death.

Watermelon CI

September 16th, 2010
12:22 pm

As sit here, I cant help to wonder if my book tittle,”Thuggs In The House” will be a hit. This books removing Thuggs from our school sytems.Well, that didn’t make any sence. I go now to drink so more of my new watermelon juice wine this wine is made from watermelon seeds that I collected when I was in dessert.

Watermelon CI

September 16th, 2010
12:28 pm

Watermelon CI be sorry for the mispelled words like you see here in this post in the last post. Watermelon CI must go now to the hills of the dessert from which Watermelon CI lives flipping pennies and driking watermelon wine. I reach the land of black corn and watermelon wine.


September 16th, 2010
2:19 pm

Watermelon CI, you are crazy but I love it!


September 16th, 2010
3:03 pm

Anyone who puts security over privacy and freedom, deserves neither.


September 17th, 2010
7:07 am

Let God will be done thru this blog


September 17th, 2010
7:08 am

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