Sep. 9, 2013
Story by the Associated Press, curated by Jason Howerton
WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly disclosed U.S. government files provide an inside look at the Homeland Security Department’s practice of seizing and searching electronic devices at the border without showing reasonable suspicion of a crime or getting a judge’s approval.
The documents published Monday describe the case of David House, a young computer programmer in Boston who had befriended Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, the soldier convicted of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks. U.S. agents quietly waited for months for House to leave the country then seized his laptop, thumb drive, digital camera and cellphone when he re-entered the United States. They held his laptop for weeks before returning it, acknowledging one year later that House had committed no crime and promising to destroy copies the government made of House’s personal data.
The government turned over the federal records to House as part of a legal settlement agreement after a two-year court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued the government on House’s behalf. The ACLU said the records suggest that federal investigators are using border crossings to investigate U.S. citizens in ways that would otherwise violate the Fourth Amendment.
The Homeland Security Department declined to discuss the case.
House said he was 22 when he first met Manning, who now is serving a 35-year sentence for one of the biggest intelligence leaks in U.S. history. It was a brief, uneventful encounter at a January 2010 computer science event. But when Manning was arrested later that June, that nearly forgotten handshake came to mind. House, another tech enthusiast, considered Manning a bright, young, tech-savvy person who was trying to stand up to the U.S. government and expose what he believed were wrongheaded politics.
House volunteered with friends to set up an advocacy group they called the Bradley Manning Support Network, and he went to prison to visit Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning.
It was that summer that House quietly landed on a government watchlist used by immigrations and customs agents at the border. His file noted that the government was on the lookout for a second batch of classified documents Manning had reportedly shared with the group WikiLeaks but hadn’t made public yet. Border agents were told that House was “wanted for questioning” regarding the “leak of classified material.” They were given explicit instructions: If House attempted to cross the U.S. border, “secure digital media,” and “ID all companions.”