A growing number of reports accuse the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of tampering with passengers electronic devices, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Filed today, the lawsuit alleges the TSA is, perhaps illegally, searching the cell phones and laptops of airline passengers on domestic flights. Now the ACLU is demanding the US Government respond by disclosing its policies for searching mobile devices on (or before) flights. Weve received reports of passengers on purely domestic flights having their phones and laptops searched, and the takeaway is that TSA has been taking these items from people without providing any reason why, the staff attorney Vasudha Talla told The Guardian. The search of an electronic device has the potential to be highly invasive and cover the most personal details about a person. For international travelers, the problem is a pervasive one. The ACLU and others have raised concerns previously over TSA and US Customs and Border Patrol agents performing invasive searches of international travelers phones and devices. According to numerous reports, foreign travelers have been forced to unlock mobile phones and laptops for what seem to be illegal searches. On domestic flights, however, the problem is relatively new. It also doesnt seem to follow a pattern of singling out sexes, races, or religious groups. The only similarities reported seem to be that the searches typically happen without warning or explanation. and almost always in a pre-flight security line. The TSA declined to comment on the lawsuit, but confirmed to TNW that it does not search the contents of electronic devices. If your device has been searched by the TSA in the past, with or without justification, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions for TSA after reports of laptop and phone searches on domestic flightson The Guardian
It wants to know the whys and hows when it comes to searching domestic passengers' devices. When the TSA launched stricter screening procedures for domestic passengers' electronic devices last year, it didn't reveal the whys and hows. That didn't sit well with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, which has now filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the organization in an effort to extract more info about its procedures and motivations. ACLU staff attorney Vasudha Talla explains: "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search. 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 rights and liberties watchdog wants to see the TSA's records detailing its policies, procedures or protocols when it comes to searching domestic passengers' devices. It also wants to see the equipment the TSA uses to probe deep into people's phones and laptops when they don't think manual searches are enough. Finally, it wants to know what kind of training the officers who conduct electronic searches get. The question now is whether the TSA would comply with the ACLU's request -- this is the second FOIA the non-profit org filed following its first attempt in December 2017. ACLU says the "TSA has subsequently improperly withheld the requested records" that time, so it's putting the pressure on the agency to be more transparent yet again. While the TSA is keeping procedures for domestic screening a secret, it did reveal that "border officials can search [international passengers'] devices with or without probable cause. " The ACLU is also challenging that practice for international flights, especially since the agency's number of searches has ballooned considerably these past couple of years.