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The risks of crossing borders

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  • The risks of crossing borders

    The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has received an increasing number of reports from travelers who have been stopped, searched, and/or detained by customs agents because of comic book art. In one recent incident, an individual was detained at the U.S.-Canada border while en route to an anime/manga convention. He was handcuffed and held briefly on charges of child pornography, and his materials seized. Such tactics, focusing on expressive materials that are presumptively protected by the United States Constitution, are even more troubling to the extent border searches are not limited to hard copies of materials in a travelerís possession. Customs agents also may search for information stored on electronic devices, including cameras, laptop computers, cell phones or other storage devices, or on electronic media, such as flash drives or DVDs. Such searches may be conducted at random, with or without reasonable suspicion, and are becoming increasingly common. According to information revealed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU, over 6,500 people traveling to and from the United States between October 2008 and June 2010 had their electronic devices searched at the border. Nearly half of those searched were U.S. citizens. These developments also cause special concern because few legal protections exist with respect to such searches. This Advisory generally discusses the phenomenon of border searches of expressive materials, describes the basic legal framework governing such searches, and offers some general suggestions for international travelers planning to transport expressive materials.
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