EFF sues Homeland Security over searches of travelers’ laptops and other invasions of privacy

PC World reports:

Two civil liberties groups have filed a lawsuit in a federal court in California in response to complaints from travelers of excessive screenings at border-entry points, including inspections of the data on laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

In the legal filing, the two groups ask the court to order the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division to release records relating to its policies and procedures on the “questioning, search and inspection” of travelers entering or returning to the U.S. at various ports of entry.

The ALC and the EFF, which are both based in San Francisco, said in a joint statement that they filed the suit under the Freedom of Information Act after the DHS didn’t respond to a FOIA request the two groups submitted last October. They added that they had requested the information from the DHS in response to increasing allegations of “excessive or repeated” screenings by CBP agents.

For instance, the ALC received more than 20 complaints over the past year from individuals who said they had been “grilled about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, or associations” when returning to the U.S. from trips overseas, according to the statement.

Some of the people also claimed that CBP staffers inspected and sometimes copied the contents of their laptop files and cell phone directories without providing any reason for doing so, the ALC and the EFF said. The groups are seeking the information about the screening policies so they can assess whether they should take any legal or legislative actions to try to force the CBP to change its procedures.

DHS officials referred an inquiry seeking comment about the lawsuit and the earlier FOIA request to the CBP’s press office, which didn’t immediately return a phone call placed late in the afternoon Eastern time.

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