from the we'd-just-like-to-know-wtf-is-going-on dept
Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute wants to know why device searches at the border have skyrocketed since the beginning of this year. As was reported earlier this month, the number of devices searched in February 2017 equals the total searched in all of 2015. Even last year’s jump from 5,000 to 25,000 searches looks miniscule in comparison. Border device searches are on track to more than double last year’s numbers. (h/t The Intercept)
The Knight First Amendment Institute filed FOIA requests with the DHS, ICE, and CBP for “statistical, policy, and assessment records” related to the steep increase in device searches. It’s also looking for any legal interpretations the agencies might have on hand that explain their take on the Supreme Court’s Riley decision, which instituted a warrant requirement for cell phone searches.
It asked for expedited handling given the significant public interest in all things immigration and border-related, which has climbed along with the device searches thanks to several presidential directives, some of which are being challenged in court.
As the lawsuit [PDF] notes, the public definitely should be apprised of the policies and procedures governing border device searches. If there’s been an increase in searches, the public should be made aware of why this is happening, as well as their rights and remedies when it comes to entering or leaving the United States. The suit also points out that several recent reports suggest devices have been taken by government agents by force, or “consent” obtained through threats of further detention and/or violence.
Naturally, the FOIA requests have been greeted with non-responses and indifference by these agencies, which has prompted the Institute’s FOIA lawsuit. The FOIA requesters seek the court’s assistance in pushing the agencies into quicker responses. To date, it’s received nothing but acknowledgements. There have been no estimates of time needed to fulfill the requests or any indication the agencies have even begun searching for responsive documents.
Of course, this immediate lawsuit strategy could backfire. The government has been pushing back against FOIA requesters’ lawsuits filed shortly after the statutory response period has expired. It claims these immediate lawsuits are nothing more than certain requesters hoping to push their requests to the front of the line, rather than allow theirs to be ignored/mishandled/stonewalled in the order it was received. Of course, the government’s arguments would be more sympathetic if multiple federal agencies didn’t repeatedly engage in these tactics and do whatever they can to keep requested documents out of requesters’ hands.