A US activist and co-founder of a group advocating for WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning is suing the US government for unlawfully seizing his laptop during a routine airport border check.
Computer scientist David House's portable PC was nabbed by two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials at Chicago's O'Hare airport in November as he returned from a trip to Mexico, according to a report in the Washington Post. The pair confiscated the notebook not because they suspected it of containing evidence of wrongdoing, but because House has been a vocal critic of Manning's detention, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges in a suit due to be filed today at a District Court in Boston.
The DHS held on to House's notebook for 49 days. The machine contained passwords to House's bank account and the computer at his workplace, as well as several years' worth of personal email - plus confidential correspondence from the Bradley Manning Support Network, including lists of potential donors.
The ACLU argues the seizure of House's laptop was unconstitutional, and says that government should only be allowed to conduct such searches where there is suspicion of a crime, not have a suspicion of a crime and a 'border-related' justification to conduct such searches.
In the US, law enforcement agencies usually require a search warrant based on probable cause of a crime - but the government's position is that it needs no such warrant to search travellers entering the country - or even reasonable suspicion.
In the past, the US Supreme Court has placed few limits on the legitimacy of border searches, finding that the intent behind a search is irrelevant if the search is routine or reasonable. But the question remains as to whether a detailed search of a laptop containing such a vast amount of personal information could be defined as 'reasonable' without at least some suspicion that a crime has been committed.
The laptop seizure is not the only time House has been subject to seeming harassment by the US government. As thinq_ reported in January, the computer scientist was detained for two hours and repeatedly asked to confirm his identity after being accused of a traffic violation by guards at the military brig in Quantico, Virginia where his friend Bradley Manning was formerly detained.
The US army private is currently being held at the Fort Leavenworth facility in Kansas, awaiting trial on charges of passing classified US Department of Defense secrets to WikiLeaks.