When It's At The Border, Your Data Is Fair Game — Even On Your Laptop

Philip Bump | The Atlantic Wire | September 10, 2013

Americans are protected from warrantless search in America — but not at the nation's borders. The imaginary line separating the United States from the rest of the world has become a critical demarcation for the privacy of the country's citizens, as new documents from the ACLU and the ongoing Snowden leaks make clear.

David House, above, worked as a fundraiser for the defense of Chelsea Manning in her court-martial for uploading classified information to Wikileaks. That brought him to the attention of the government, perhaps predictably; he was questioned by authorities about his relationship to the Army private. What he didn't know, though, is that he'd been flagged in the Department of Homeland Security's TECS system. (TECS is not an acronym for anything.) That flag, according to documents obtained by the ACLU, looked like this.

The government thought that House might be in possession of documents that Manning planned to leak, but hadn't. So when House traveled to Mexico in 2010, he triggered an alert from the DHS and was met at Chicago's O'Hare airport on his return. DHS agents seized House's electronic devices, extracted the data, and sent it to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command.