ACL-Sue: Rights group takes on TSA over device searches

FOIA suit seeks info about snooping on domestic flights

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing to force the TSA to produce documents detailing searches of electronic devices.

The rights group said its FOIA complaint [PDF] seeks documents that detail how agents have searched electronic devices owned by passengers on domestic flights.

While the government has long been known to search the electronic devices of passengers on international flights and at border crossings, domestic searches are a more recent development and remain a murky area that the ACLU wants to get a better picture of.

The suit asks the transportation bod to cough up documents that detail things like the protocol and procedures for domestic searches and the tools agents use to carry out scans of electronic devices.

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"TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," said ACLU staff attorney Vashuda Talla.

"We don’t know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don’t know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant."

The ACLU says in its complaint that it has been trying for months to get the information through normal FOIA requests dating back to December of last year, but has thus far been stonewalled by the TSA.

Now, the group wants a federal court to step in and force the administration to hand over the documents.

"TSA has not made publicly available any policies or procedures governing searches of electronic devices, especially those held by passengers engaged in purely domestic air travel," the complaint reads.

"As such, the public is unaware of the legal basis for TSA’s searches of electronic devices of passengers not presenting themselves at the border and flying on a domestic flight. "

The case is set to be heard in the California Northern District in San Francisco. ®

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