House sues after US government steals laptop

A co-founder of a group advocating for Bradley Manning is suing the US government for illegally taking his computer and copying its contents to aid a criminal investigation of Wikileaks.

MIT computer scientist David House had his laptop taken by Department of Homeland Security agents while he was at the airport.

According to the Washington Post initally House thought that the laptop was snuffled as part of an airport security check, but now it seems that it was because House was a vocal supporter of Private. Bradley Manning, the accused leaker.

House is being backed by the American Civil Liberties Union which is worried that the government’s more aggressive border search policies are being used to collect information about people’s political activities and help criminal investigations.

House’s laptop seizure was unconstitutional, they argue, because it contained such a vast amount of personal material, including private membership lists, The Union claims that reviewing it was a thought crime.

Before government should take laptops it should have a suspicion of a crime and a “border related” justification to conduct such searches.

In the US, a search warrant based on probable cause of a crime is needed to examine a person’s laptop. However, if you are entering the country, the government’s position is that it does not need a warrant or even reasonable suspicion.

The Supreme Court thinks that as long as a search is routine or reasonable, the intent of the search does not matter. However it has not said yet if searching a laptop with troves of personal data is reasonable without at least some suspicion of a crime.

The US spooks held House’s laptop for 49 days, without charging him, or allowing him to see a lawyer. It later released the laptop without an explaination.

The laptop contained several years’ worth of e-mails with family, friends and co-workers; passwords to his bank account and workplace computer; confidential messages of the Bradley Manning Support Network about strategy and fund-raising; and lists of potential donors and notes on donor meetings.