March 28 (UPI) -- The Knight First Amendment Institute is suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of a Freedom of Information Act request to release details of when U.S. border officers searched travelers' electronic devices since 2012.
The Knight Institute at Columbia University seeks an expedited review of the FOIA request submitted to the DHS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Knight Institute also seeks compensation for costs incurred due to the lawsuit and any other relief the court orders.
The Knight Institute alleges officers working for Customs and Border Protection and ICE have seized and searched the electronic devices of thousands of people, including U.S. citizens, without individualized suspicion -- which it alleges could violate the Constitution.
The lawsuit said officers are acting under directives issued in 2009 that authorize border officers to search travelers' electronic devices, including cellphones, tablets and laptop computers, without proper suspicion.
"Among the individuals whose electronic devices have been seized and searched are several journalists whose communications with confidential sources were subject to government review," the Knight Institute alleges in its lawsuit filed Monday. "For example, CBP officers reportedly detained and interrogated French-American photojournalist Kim Badawi while searching the contents of his cellphone, including his private photos and his WhatsApp messages with a Syrian refugee source."
The lawsuit cited news reports that indicate border officials target Muslims, including U.S. citizens who are Muslim, for searches of their electronic devices.
The Knight Institute said it filed the lawsuit after the defendants -- identified as the DHS and ICE -- failed to respond to its expedited FOIA request within 10 days as required by law.
"The indiscriminate search of Americans' electronic devices at the border raises serious constitutional questions under both the First and Fourth Amendment," the lawsuit alleges. "People today store their most intimate information on their electronic devices, reflecting their thoughts, explorations, activities, and associations. Subjecting that information to unfettered government scrutiny invades the core of individual privacy and threatens free inquiry and expression."