Federal agents detained a Wall Street Journal reporter for more than an hour at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday, demanding she hand over her two cell phones to allow them to “collect information.”
When the reporter balked, citing her right to protect her sources, Homeland Security agents showed her a document stating they had the legal right to seize electronic devices without a warrant or probable cause within 100 miles of the border.
Maria Abi-Habib, who lives in Lebanon, covering the Middle East for the Journal, told the agents that she needed to call her employer first because they are the owners of the phones.
That was when she was accused of “hindering the investigation,” Abi-Habib explained in a lengthy Facebook post today, where she included an image of the DHS document that states we must give up our rights within 100 miles of the border in the name of safety.
The federal agent then left the room, leaving Abi-Habib with another federal agent before returning 30 minutes later, telling her she was free to go.
Apparently, they did not went to engage in a publicity battle with the second largest circulated newspaper in the United States.
Abi-Habib, who is both a United States and Lebanese citizen, possessing passports from both countries, said she had arrived in Los Angeles to attend a wedding.
She stated the following in her Facebook post, which you can read here:
1) My rights as a journalist or US citizen do not apply at the border, as explained above, since legislation was quietly passed in 2013 giving DHS very broad powers (I researched this since the incident). This legislation also circumvents the Fourth Amendment that protects Americans’ privacy and prevents searches and seizures without a proper warrant.
2) Always use encryption, but even this cannot keep you 100% safe. If you are contacting someone about a sensitive matter, use an application like Signal. But if DHS seizes your phone, they can see you’ve been speaking to that person, although if you erase your chats, they won’t see what you spoke about.
3) Never download anything or even open a link from a friend or source that looks suspicious. This may be malware, meaning that they have downloaded software on your phone that will be able to circumvent the powers of encryption. Don’t leave your phone unattended for the same reasons – they can just open it up and download malware.
4) Travel “naked” as one encryption expert told me. If any government wants your information, they will get it no matter what. Remember the San Bernardino shooter? Apple refused to comply, so the US got the information by paying an Israeli company $1 million to unlock the shooter’s phone. So if you have something extra sensitive on your device – phone or laptop – do not travel with it and instead use your sim card in a clean phone. And for sensitive numbers, write them on a piece of paper you can somehow secure and then restore the factory settings on your phone – which seems to be the only way of wiping it clean 100%.
The Wall Street Journal’s editor in chief, Gerard Baker, told CNN Money that the “notion that Customs and Border Protection agents would stop and question one of our journalists in connection with her reporting and seek to search her cell phones is unacceptable.”
Below is the document shown to the reporter that states they have the legal right to seize her phones.