Human rights activist and Bradley Manning Support Network founding member David House has settled his federal lawsuit against the government after it agreed to destroy all of the data it obtained from his laptop during a border search.
The network was set up to raise defense funds for Manning, a soldier who has admitted sending classified materials to WikiLeaks.
In November 2010, U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents stopped and questioned House at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. They confiscated his laptop, camera and USB drive, which contained information about network members and supporters. Officials also copied House’s cell phone at the airport and held his laptop and other devices for 49 days.
The data were turned over to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, which decided it would not use the information.
House’s June 2011 District of Massachusetts lawsuit claimed that the government had violated his Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting him to unreasonable search and seizure and his First Amendment right to freedom of association. He named officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented House, announced the deal on Thursday, saying the government also agreed to hand over additional documents. These include reports describing the Army’s inspection of House’s data; Homeland Security documents telling agents to stop House as he entered U.S.; and reports on agents’ questioning of House, including about WikiLeaks.
The settlement represents an important victory for House because it shows that "the power of the government to search and seize our electronic devices at the border is not unlimited," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
"Given the sensitivity of the information we all carry around on our personal electronic devices, the government should not be searching and seizing our electronic devices without a reason to believe that a search will turn up evidence of wrongdoing. This settlement goes as far as possible in undoing the harm to House and others caused by the government’s unconstitutional actions," Crump said.
The Justice Department would have no comment, spokeswoman Allison Price said.
Sheri Qualters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.