US Government Sued For Stealing Laptop

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Old 17-May-2011
Red face US Government Sued For Stealing Laptop

According to Washington Post, one of the co-founders of an outfit advocating for Bradley Manning launched a lawsuit against the American government for taking his PC and copying its contents without authorization in order to help a criminal investigation of Wikileaks.

David House, the MIT computer scientist, was at the airport when his laptop was seized by Department of Homeland Security agents. Initially, he thought that his computer was searched just as part of a security check. However, it appeared that the laptop was seized because House was supporting Bradley Manning, the accused leaker.

Now David House is backed by the US Civil Liberties Union, which claims that the country’s government employs too aggressive border search policies in order to gather data about political activities of the citizens and aid criminal investigations. American Civil Liberties Union argues that House's laptop seizure was unconstitutional, as the device contained a lot of personal content like private membership lists. The Union even claimed that reviewing the latter is a thought crime.

Instead, before seizing laptops, the government should have provided a suspicion of a crime, as well as a "border related" justification to perform such searches. If you are leaving the United States, a search warrant based on cause of a crime is necessary for examining someone’s laptop. But if a person is entering the country, government believes that it needs neither a warrant nor even any reason for suspicion.

As for the Supreme Court, it believes that if a search is routine or reasonable, then it doesn’t matter what the intent of it is. But at the same time the government didn’t say if searching a PC with plenty of personal information is reasonable at all without any suspicion of a crime.

The authorities held the laptop in question for 49 days. House was neither charged, nor allowed to see a lawyer all this time. After 49 days, the US government released the device without any explanation.

The device, among many other, contained a few years' worth of personal e-mails with relatives, friends and colleagues, as well as passwords to House’s bank account and workplace PC, and the most suspicious part – confidential messages of the Bradley Manning Support Network over further strategy and fund-raising.

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