by Hugh Handeyside, Activist Post:
The recent abusive border search of a Canadian photojournalist should serve as a warning to everyone concerned about press freedom these days.
Ed Ou is a renowned photographer and TED senior fellow who has traveled to the United States many times to do work for The New York Times, Time magazine, and other media outlets. Last month, Ed was traveling from Canada to the U.S. to report on the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota, when he was taken aside for additional inspection.
What came next left him questioning what he thought he knew about the U.S. government and the values it stands for, and we’re officially protesting to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Although Ed clearly identified himself as a journalist on his way to Standing Rock, the CBP officers detained him for more than six hours and subjected him to multiple rounds of intrusive interrogation.
They questioned him at length about his work as a journalist, his prior professional travel in the Middle East, and dissidents or “extremists” he had encountered or interviewed as a journalist. They photocopied his personal papers, including pages from his handwritten personal diary.
Ed Ou uses a camera to shield himself during clashes between anti-government protesters and pro-Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Egyptian Revolution in January 2011. (Photo by Guy Martin)
They also asked Ed to unlock the three mobile phones he uses to communicate in different locations worldwide. Ed told them he couldn’t agree to do that because of his ethical obligation as a journalist to protect his confidential sources. The officers took the phones, and when they returned them several hours later, the tamper tape covering the phones’ SIM cards was altered or missing, suggesting that the officers had removed and possibly copied the cards.
After all that, the officers denied Ed admission to the country without giving him a valid reason. One of the officers said he couldn’t provide any details. Another officer said that Ed’s refusal to grant access to his mobile phones “did not help.”
Ed’s treatment was unjustified and unlawful. Although CBP has the authority to stop and search travelers at the border for the purpose of identifying people who are inadmissible or engaged in criminal activity, the officers exceeded that authority. They had no legitimate cause to detain Ed for six hours, interrogate him about his professional activities, copy his diary, or search his phones. That abusive and harassing conduct is all the more troubling given that the officers apparently conditioned Ed’s admission to the U.S. on his willingness to assist them in searching his phones.
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