He is an American citizen. He is a journalist. And all his files and contacts were compromised by US Customs and Border Protection.
US CBP claims the authority to search anyone at the border, without justification, without probable cause, or even reasonable suspicion that you have been involved in any criminal activity.
This applies to your phone and computer as well. They can search you coming in, or leaving the country. And they don’t care if you’re an American citizen– you have no rights at the border.
This practice has rapidly expanded recently to affect over 33,000 travelers per year.
Now we have a face to identify with the victims.
Seth Harp recently wrote about his experience being violated at the US border coming back from working on a story in Mexico.
The agents suspected him of absolutely nothing– they were very open about that. But they still coerced him into obtaining access to his phone and computer.
They looked through every single picture, and every single file. They viewed footage he took in war zones in the middle east. They combed through his contacts who provide him with material for his stories.
But then a third officer, whose name was Villarreal, carefully read every page of my 2019 journal, including copious notes to self on work, relationships, friends, family, and all sorts of private reflections I had happened to write down. I told him, “Sir, I know there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but I want to tell you, as one human being to another, that you’re invading my privacy right now, and I don’t appreciate it.” Villarreal acknowledged the statement and went back to reading.
That was just the beginning. The real abuse of power was a warrantless search of my phone and laptop. This is the part that affects everyone, not just reporters and people who keep journals.
…CBP goes by its own rules, namely CBP Directive No. 3340-049A, pursuant to which CBP can search any person’s device, at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. If you refuse to give up your password, CBP’s policy is to seize the device. The agency may use “external equipment” to crack the passcode, “not merely to gain access to the device, but to review, copy, and/or analyze its contents,” according to the directive. CBP can look for any kind of evidence, any kind of information, and can share what it finds with any other federal agency…
After I gave him the password to my iPhone, Moncivias spent three hours reviewing hundreds of photos and videos and emails and calls and texts, including encrypted messages on WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. It was the digital equivalent of tossing someone’s house: opening cabinets, pulling out drawers, and overturning furniture in hopes of finding something — anything — illegal. He read my communications with friends, family, and loved ones. He went through my correspondence with colleagues, editors, and sources. He asked about the identities of people who have worked with me in war zones. He also went through my personal photos, which I resented. Consider everything on your phone right now. Nothing on mine was spared.
Pomeroy, meanwhile, searched my laptop. He browsed my emails and my internet history. He looked through financial spreadsheets and property records and business correspondence. He was able to see all the same photos and videos as Moncivias and then some, including photos I thought I had deleted.
At one point, Pomeroy was standing over my laptop on the desk. I couldn’t see the screen, and he had such a puzzled expression on his face that I stood up to see what he was looking at. “Get back,” he said, clapping a hand on his sidearm. “I don’t know if you’re going for my gun.”
Every American is supposed to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure by government agents. The Fourth Amendment doesn’t make any exceptions.
But the right of the press to be free from intimidation and tampering is also sacrosanct in the First Amendment.
As a student of history, this type of government overreach does not bode well.