the following to the Minnesota Congressional Delegation:
Members of the Faculty Senate of the University of Minnesota write to express
their grave concern at the change in Department of Home Security policy that
enables Customs and Border Patrol Agents to seize and copy electronic and
printed materials at will, without even "suspicion of illegal activity"
("probable cause"), by which their efforts were limited until July 2008. We
believe that what today affects only border crossings, tomorrow could spread
internally. This freely invasive practice is a threat to the integrity of the
research of all scientists and other scholars who cross borders and, often,
collaborate with scientists and scholars abroad. We urge you to do all you can
to restore to Agents’ practice the entirely reasonable requirement of
"suspicion of illegal activity" that previously obtained.
Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure received the following information from
the national office of the American Association of University Professors, and in
response, recommends the motion for adoption by the Faculty Senate, to be
forwarded to the members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation.
AAUP Legislative Alert: Border Searches of Electronic Materials
past few months there has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the
searches of electronic materials at the border. Until recently, Customs and
Border Patrol agents could seize and copy electronic and printed materials if
they had probable cause to believe that the law was being broken. In July 2008,
the Department of Homeland Security revealed that its internal policies no
longer require any suspicion of illegal activity to search and seize
travelers’ materials. While privacy issues are everyone’s concern,
and all citizens should actively defend their civil liberties, faculty members
have particular areas of concern about this policy due to their research and
collaboration with colleagues around the world. Below, we offer links to press
coverage and a congressional hearing on the issue.
consider calling your representatives and senators to express your concerns
about this issue.
Talking points are directly below.
contact information for your elected officials, as well as some general pointers
on grassroots advocacy by visiting the AAUP's online advocacy center.
also call or e-mail the offices of Senator Russ Feingold and Senator Patrick
Leahy to thank them for convening a hearing on this vital issue and encourage
them to continue their oversight work.
Professors commonly collaborate on research with colleagues in other countries.
In places with restrictive governments, researchers and scholars may be taking
risks to work on certain projects. Knowing that such collaboration will no
longer be kept confidential may have a chilling effect on collaboration across
-- Similarly, faculty working in areas such as human rights may
have a much more difficult time making contacts or finding sources, if they
cannot guarantee the anonymity of sources of information. This would greatly
impede the amount and quality of information obtained about various political
and socio-economic situations around the world, of which academics are a vital
-- There is little or no information about how information that is
copied and kept by Homeland Security will be kept secure, leading to concerns
about the protection of original research. This extends to projects that may
have patents pending or are in an otherwise precarious stage of
-- It is unlikely that the Customs and Border Protection
agents conducting such searches at the border would have the specialized
knowledge to determine whether or not certain types of data, particularly in
areas of science such as engineering or biochemistry, pose a genuine
-- The invasion of privacy may extend well beyond the individual
whose possessions are being searched. Many faculty members have outside
practices or jobs. An adjunct at a school of law may have confidential client
records. An instructor from a psychology department may have patient records.
Thus, obligations of confidentiality may be breached through no fault of the
professional’s own under these searches.
coverage of this issue:
Powers to Search Travelers at Border Detailed" Washington Post, 9/23/08
and Replace" [editorial], Washington Post, 8/13/08
Agency Says It Can Seize Laptops" PC World, 8/3/08
Laptops May Be Detained At Border: No Suspicion Required Under DHS Policies"
Washington Post, 8/1/08
Hearing: Senate Judiciary Committee, "Laptop Searches and Other Violations of
Privacy Faced by Americans Returning from Overseas Travel"
Nelson, AAUP president
Nicole Byrd, AAUP government relations