Muslim Advocates Testifies Before US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Laptop Seizures & Other Privacy Violations

Washington, D.C. – Congress must protect citizens who travel abroad and ensure that they are not subject to unreasonable and coercive interrogations and searches without cause when re-entering the country according to a leading American Muslim legal advocacy and educational organization.

Testimony Before Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Highlights the Increase in Invasive Interrogations and Laptop and Electronic Searches of American Citizens

Washington, D.C. – Congress must protect citizens who travel abroad and ensure that they are not subject to unreasonable and coercive interrogations and searches without cause when re-entering the country according to a leading American Muslim legal advocacy and educational organization.

In scheduled testimony offered before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution this morning about the increase in invasive interrogations and laptop, cell phone, and digital camera searches of law-abiding American citizens returning home from travel abroad, Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates cited detailed experiences of American citizens being subject to intrusive and coercive searches. Many of these examples were entered into the public record for the first time.

“Congress must ensure that innocent, law-abiding Americans are able to travel freely, visit friends and relatives abroad, and engage in commerce, without fear that federal law enforcement will use the inherently coercive context of a border crossing to engage in violations of their privacy and First Amendment protected beliefs and activities,” Khera testified. “There’s simply no reason why we can’t ensure that U.S. Customs and Border Protection both protects our nation and respects our nation’s constitutional rights and protections.”

“These incidents from across the country suggest that the First and Fourth Amendment rights of innocent Americans are being violated,” Khera continued. “We’re not talking about the inconveniences we all face at the airport, what we are bringing to light today before Congress is the use of excessive and coercive interrogation tactics that cause concern for all Americans and people of faith, not just members of the Muslim, Arab and South Asian American communities” she continued.

Khera went on to share the stories of several law-abiding citizens who had been subjected to repeated and intrusive interrogations by U.S.officials. The stories included those of:

  • A corporate vice president with a major high-tech company based in the Pacific Northwest who has been subjected to interrogations on at least eight separate occasions since spring 2007. A business and community leader, he previously testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on measures to strengthen the American information technology industry and received the Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award from the Interfaith Alliance Foundation in 2003. Since early 2007, he has traveled for business and personal reasons to a number of different countries, including Japan, Canada, United Kingdom (and other parts of Europe), and Turkey. Upon his return, CBP agents have interrogated him about the names, birth dates and addresses of family members living abroad and in the U.S., the identities of business and personal contacts with whom he met during his travels, his religious practices. He was told by a Customs and Border Patrol agent that “if [he] wanted to avoid such interrogations he would have to case international travel.”
  • An American Muslim of Pakistani descent, who is a practicing attorney with a major law firm on the west coast, and was interrogated by CBPagents at San Francisco International Airport after visiting relatives overseas in the Spring 2008. Upon confirming her citizenship status, she thoroughly answered initial questions about her travels and identity. Her luggage was then searched and her digital camera was seized. The agent then interrogated her about the identities of the people in her travel photos, mostly family members, their location and relationships to them. Upon seeing a book in her bag about a presidential candidate, the CBP agent then posed questions about her political views of the candidates in the 2008 presidential election.
  • A Gulf War veteran who is currently a firefighter and member of the local Homeland Security Emergency Response Team in Toledo, OH.He was questioned on numerous occasions since 2006 at the Detroit Ambassador Bridge while trying to visit family members in Ontario, Canada. He was detained for up to four hours and CBP agents have searched his car and his cell phone records and asked why he chose to convert to Islam. In one encounter, CBP officials confronted him with a letter to the editor he wrote in a local Toledo newspaper that raised questions and was critical about U.S. foreign policy.

The testimony concluded with recommendations for Congress to help protect the rights of law-abiding Americans returning home from travel abroad. These recommendations included considering legislation that incorporates elements clarifying that searching data and electronic devices goes beyond a routine border search and requires reasonable suspicion and that questions about an individual’s political or religious views or activities are impermissible. The recommendations also encourage more active Congressional oversight, specifically encouraging Congress to commission a study with the Government Accounting Office to explicitly track and report back the scope of invasive interrogations and searches of citizens re-entering the country.

For more information on the Subcommittee hearing or to schedule interviews with
Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, please contact Yasmin Hamidi,
212-584-5000 × 227 or [email protected]

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Muslim Advocates is a national education and advocacy organization based in San Francisco, CA. Its mission is to use legal advocacy, policy engagement, and education to promote and protect equality, liberty and justice for all, regardless of faith, and to promote the full and meaningful participation of Muslims in American public life. Muslim Advocates is a dynamic, growing organization created by a group of experienced American Muslim lawyers and policy experts to address some of the most pressing civil rights and human rights challenges facing our nation today.

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Click here to view the hearing

Click here to view the written testimony of Muslim Advocates