Jun 26 2008

D.C. ID Roadblock Case Filed

The Partnership for Civil Justice, a Washington DC-based public interest law firm, filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia seeking an injunction against the Metropolitan Police Department’s Neighborhood Safety Zone checkpoint program.

The lawsuit asserts that the roadblock program instituted in recent weeks is an unconstitutional suspicionless seizure of persons traveling on public roadways in the District of Columbia. The lawsuit also challenges the District’s use of these mass civil rights violations to collect and aggregate data on the movements, activities and associations of law abiding residents and visitors to the District and seeks expungement of this information.

If anyone has doubts about the danger of mission creep associated with a state’s compliance with the Real ID Act, they should be told about what’s going on here.  While this fiasco was initiated by local authorities, remember that §201(3) of the Real ID Act grants a sole individual (the Secretary of DHS) the authority to establish by fiat when and where “official” ID is required in the United States.

Copies of the Class Action Complaint, Mills v. District of Columbia, can be accessed here.

Jun 26 2008

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution Holds Hearing on Border Searches

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution held a hearing on “Laptop Searches and Other Violations of Privacy Faced by Americans Returning from Overseas Travel.” Individuals innocent of any wrongdoing have increasingly been reporting that their laptops, smartphones and other electronic devices have been searched and seized by US Customs and Border Protection. The Washington Post reported in February:

The seizure of electronics at U.S. borders has prompted protests from travelers who say they now weigh the risk of traveling with sensitive or personal information on their laptops, cameras or cellphones. In some cases, companies have altered their policies to require employees to safeguard corporate secrets by clearing laptop hard drives before international travel.

At the Senate hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Russ Feingold summed up the situation succinctly: “Customs agents must have the ability to conduct even highly intrusive searches when there is reason to suspect criminal or terrorist activity, but suspicion-less searches of Americans’ laptops and similar devices go too far. Congress should not allow this gross violation of privacy.”

Various witnesses, including Susan Gurley, Executive Director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives; Lee Tien, Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Peter P. Swire, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, detailed the many privacy and civil liberty issues raised by suspicionless searches and seizures of electronic devices and data at the border.

Tien said that EFF agreed “the Fourth Amendment works differently at the border. But, ‘differently’ does not mean ‘not at all.’” EFF and the Asian Law Caucus have filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees Customs and Border Protection) for denying access to public records on the questioning and searches of travelers and seizures of their property at U.S. borders. Read More