First Amendment attorneys have filed suit against the Trump administration over access to data U.S. citizens and visitors data related to electronic device searches, such as cell phones and laptop computers, at border crossings in the U.S.
Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute filed the complaint on March 15 and said that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stalled its request seeking data on the nature of the devices searches and the number of complaints about the operation.
The complaint is requesting details on the exact number of travelers whose electronic devices were searched and how their data were shared. It also seeks a precise demographic breakdown of the seizures by citizenship status, race, nationality, and ethnicity.
Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the executive branch can be compelled to surrender copies of federal agency records. The only stipulation is that the disclosure must not negatively impact national security.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), would not comment since the litigation is pending.
Agents at the border have wide discretion in determining whether or not to search a traveler’s personal electronic devices. Homeland Security officials are able to request that travelers unlock their phones or laptops for inspection at any U.S. port of entry. Privacy proponents have criticized these searches as warrantless seizures since the confiscated devices will often contain vast amounts of sensitive, personal data.