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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.
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.
He was ultimately denied entry, and he said though he was not given a reason, he was told his name matched that of a “person of interest.” During the hours of detention, he was asked to describe how and why he had traveled to each country he had visited in the past five years, and questioned about whether he had seen anyone die.
Agents requested access to his phones and to look through his photos so that they could make sure he was “not posing next to any dead bodies,” he said. When he refused, citing the need to protect his sources as a journalist, they took the phones, he said.