On May 13, 2011, David House, a U.S. citizen, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. ...
read more >
On May 13, 2011, David House, a U.S. citizen, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. House, represented by counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that federal agents' search of his electronic devices at the border and prolonged seizure of the devices without reasonable suspicion violated the First and Fourth Amendments.
Specifically, House claimed that the government seized his electronic devices, including his laptop computer, at the border when he was coming home from vacation. The plaintiff claimed that the government targeted the plaintiff solely on the basis of his lawful association with the Bradley Manning Support Network, an organization created to raise funds and support for the legal defense of Pfc. Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning, after a name change), a soldier charged with leaking a video and documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the WikiLeaks website. The government then kept the devices for forty-nine days, retained the information from them indefinitely, and disseminated the information to other government agencies and possibly foreign governments. In addition, the materials seized by the government contained confidential information identifying members and supporters of the Bradley Manning Support Network, and that the defendants' review, retention, and disclosure of that information intruded on the right of associational privacy protected by the First Amendment. According to an ACLU press release
, the search and seizure of the plaintiff's laptop had a chilling effect on the activities of the Bradley Manning Support Network, by "silencing once-outspoken supports and causing donors to retreat."
On July 28, 2011, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment. The defendants argued that there was no basis for the Court to conclude that searches of electronic devices at the border should be subjected to a different standard than that for other closed containers. The defendants also argued that there was no basis for the Court to conclude that the plaintiff's First Amendment rights were violated by the routine search and detention of his devices at the border. Finally, the defendants argued that the plaintiff's "associational privacy" claims should be dismissed, because the government is not prohibited from examining any items at the border simply because they may be related to the work of an organization; nor, the government argued, were there any factual allegations showing how Plaintiff's organization has been targeted by the government, or that the routine search of Plaintiff's electronic devices disclosure may impede the future activities of the organization.
On March 28, 2012, Judge Denise J. Casper denied the U.S.'s motion to dismiss. The court ruled that even if the government does not need suspicion or a warrant to search a laptop at the border, that power is not unlimited and First Amendment rights remain intact. House v. Napolitano, 11-10852-DJC, 2012 WL 1038816 (D. Mass. Mar. 28, 2012).
On May 23, 2013, the matter settled. All of the parties stipulated to dismissal with prejudice with each party bearing his or her own costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees. The government agreed to destroy all copies of the plaintiff's devices and to turn over documents related to its investigation of him and his devices. The government also admitted that the plaintiff was on the Department of Homeland Security's "Lookout" list used by agents at border checkpoints, which is why he was stopped and searched in the first place. The government further agreed to release reports on DHS agents' questioning of House, which included inquiries about whether he knew anything about Manning giving classified information to WikiLeaks.Jessica Kincaid - 06/21/2014