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ACLU challenges citizen laptop searches

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Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security over its searches of electronic devices on the US-Canada border.

The government argues that it has the authority to search the contents of laptops, PDAs, and other electronic devices in the same way that they would search a briefcase or backpack. That means they don't need a warrant and they don't need probable cause. The ACLU says the government searches thousands of computers every year.

Part of the case is based on the experience of Pascal Abidor, an American from New York City who studies at McGill University in Montreal. He was detained at the border crossing north of Plattsburgh in May while traveling home to visit his mother. He says border agents then confiscated his computer.

"They asked everything about my life and about my interests," Abidor says. "Why I'm interested in Islam, why I traveled to the Middle East."

According to Abidor, DHS scrutinized his laptop, looking through files that he considers to be personal. "I was able to determine that they looked extensively at my personal photos and at my saved personal chats with my girlfriend," he said.

ACLU attorney Catherine Crump spoke in-depth about the case with Bob Garfield, host of WNYC's program "On the Media."

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