Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Homeland Security Tried to Confiscate a WSJ Reporter’s Phones

Joseph Cox, Vice:

The agent passed over a document, which [reporter Maria Abi-Habib] later photographed and posted to Facebook, purportedly showing that the agent has the right to seize those devices. Abi-Habib instead said that the border agents would need to contact WSJ’s lawyers. After some back and forth, the agent went to see her supervisor, and eventually said Abi-Habib is free to go.

Abi-Habib said she reported the incident to a WSJ lawyer, encryption expert and the outlet’s in-house security. From those conversations, Abi-Habib says, “My rights as a journalist or US citizen do not apply at the border, as explained above, since legislation was quietly passed in 2013 giving DHS very broad powers (I researched this since the incident). This legislation also circumvents the Fourth Amendment that protects Americans’ privacy and prevents searches and seizures without a proper warrant.”

Per the Department of Homeland Security’s assessment (PDF):

The overall authority to conduct border searches without suspicion or warrant is clear and long- standing, and courts have not treated searches of electronic devices any differently than searches of other objects. We conclude that CBP’s and ICE’s current border search policies comply with the Fourth Amendment. We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits.

Read that again, carefully, and realize that these three sentences completely undermine the Fourth Amendment at any border crossing, such as an airport, or within a hundred miles of the American border.