Journalist Returning from Abroad Has Notes, Computer and Cameras Searched and Copied by US Authorities at Airport
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Independent journalist Brandon Jourdan recently returned from Haiti after being on assignment documenting the rebuilding of schools in the earthquake-devastated country. However, when he returned to the United States, he was immediately detained after deboarding the plane by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He was questioned about his travels and had all of his documents, computer, phone and camera flash drives searched and copied. This is the seventh time Jourdan says he has been subjected to lengthy searches in five years, and has been told by officials that he is “on a list.” Jourdan joins us in our studio. Catherine Crump, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that Jourdan is not the only one facing such treatment by the Obama administration. Crump says many journalists and lawyers who often work abroad have also experienced similar interrogations—and the ACLU believes the First and Fourth Amendments must be honored within U.S. airports.
AMY GOODMAN: U.S. citizens returning home from foreign travel can be searched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents just like anyone else. But our next guest is an independent journalist who estimates he’s been subjected to lengthy searches at least seven times in the last five years.
Brandon Jourdan most recently worked as a videographer for Democracy Now! covering the G-20 protests in Canada. This past weekend, Brandon was returning to New York from Haiti when ICE subjected him to a five-hour search and copied the contents of his laptop, along with his external hard drive and phone.
Brandon Jourdan joins me here in New York. We’re also joined by Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, specializing in free speech and privacy issues.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Brandon, talk about what happened to you when you flew into JFK Airport from Port-au-Prince.
BRANDON JOURDAN: When I flew into New York from Haiti, after I’d worked for two weeks covering rebuilding projects on schools in Haiti, I had first heard on the intercom that they wanted everyone to have their passports out. I pulled my passport out. When I walked out onto the skyway, two Immigration and Customers Enforcement officers took me by the arm and led me to a Homeland Security room.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, so are saying that they told everyone to have their passports out because actually they were looking for you?
BRANDON JOURDAN: They were looking for me.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, how do you know, once you left, that they didn’t go through everyone else’s passports on the plane?
BRANDON JOURDAN: They left with me. They didn’t continue—they didn’t continue looking at passports.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did they do? Where did they take you?
BRANDON JOURDAN: They took me to, I guess, a Homeland Security office within the JFK airport. At that point, they began looking through all of my clothes, everything. I strategically put a copy of the First and Fourth Amendment in my bags, because this has happened before, and also on my computer and my smartphone and on my hard drives. They took my journal, all my business cards, all that. They said they were going to photocopy them all. They took—
AMY GOODMAN: Did they explain why they were doing this?
BRANDON JOURDAN: I asked them, “Why are you doing this?” They basically said, “You’re on a list. We don’t know why. These are orders"—
AMY GOODMAN: You’re on a list?
BRANDON JOURDAN: Yeah. And “These are orders from Washington.” And they copied my hard drive. They copied my laptop. They copied every single one of my compact flash cards that I use for my camera, which is absurd to me, because I was documenting people building schools and a country devastated by an earthquake.