Today, the Brennan Center joined a coalition of over 100 organizations in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging it to cease any targeting of activists, journalists, or lawyers based on their First Amendment-protected speech and associational activities. The coalition demanded that DHS address alarming reports of surveillance activity by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that jeopardizes First Amendment rights and access to legal counsel and may violate the Privacy Act of 1974.
As the letter, spearheaded by the Center for Democracy and Technology, points out, ICE documented and disseminated lists of “Anti-Trump” protests in New York City. In addition, CBP allegedly targeted and created dossiers on activists, lawyers, and journalists working with and reporting on asylum seekers at the southern border. First-hand accounts revealed a pattern of harassment including extended detentions and interrogations, electronic device searches at ports of entry, and denial of re-entry to Mexico.
The Brennan Center strongly opposes the government’s collection and use of information reflecting First Amendment-protected expression, such as social media information, to target individuals and as a means of “ideological vetting.”
“The Department of Homeland Security’s surveillance and harassment of activists, journalists, and lawyers threatens the exercise of our fundamental Constitutional rights,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Senior Counsel to the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “The practice of targeting and monitoring of individuals on the basis of their First Amendment-protected speech and activities is not in line with American values or the Department’s mission of protecting the country.”
We are pleased that Congress is actively investigating both incidents, and that the DHS Investigator General has been tasked with reviewing CBP’s conduct. More must be done, however: the coalition has demanded that DHS cease impermissible targeting, monitoring, and harassment of activists, journalists, and lawyers at the border, and disclose the policies, guidelines, and training materials that govern these activities. It is critical that our government agencies be held accountable for their actions and live up to our country’s values.