Today, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) led a coalition of over 100 organizations in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging it to cease any targeting of activists, journalists, and lawyers based on their First Amendment-protected speech and associational activities. The coalition demanded that DHS address alarming reports of surveillance activity by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that jeopardizes First Amendment rights and access to legal counsel, and may violate the Privacy Act of 1974.
As we point out in the letter, ICE documented and disseminated lists of “anti-Trump” protests in New York City. In addition, CBP allegedly targeted and created dossiers on activists, lawyers, and journalists working with and reporting on asylum seekers. First-hand accounts revealed a pattern of harassment including extended detentions and interrogations, electronic device searches at ports of entry, and denial of re-entry to Mexico. And just this Monday, evidence came to light that DHS received and disseminated to its staff a spreadsheet of over 600 events planned for last year’s day of protest against family separations.
CDT has long called for the end of warrantless searches of cell phones and computers at the border. Selecting those whose devices are searched based on their opposition to or exposure of U.S. immigration policies and practices is even more problematic.
“Why are CBP and ICE monitoring First Amendment-protected activities?” asked Greg Nojeim, Director of CDT’s Freedom, Security and Technology Project. “Government surveillance of those who report its misconduct or push back on its policies may be a politically-motivated abuse of power,” he said.
“DHS’s conduct is corrosive to the exercise of Constitutional rights and to fundamental pillars of democracy in the U.S.,” added CDT Policy Counsel Mana Azarmi. “This letter demonstrates widespread concern that DHS is abusing its power and that serious reforms must be adopted.”
The coalition demanded that DHS cease impermissible targeting, monitoring, and harassment of activists, journalists, and lawyers at the border, and disclose the policies, guidelines, and training materials that govern these activities.
We are pleased that Congress is actively investigating both incidents, and that the DHS Investigator General has been tasked with reviewing CBP’s conduct. We join their efforts to ensure that our government agencies are held accountable for their actions.