(Adds ACLU response to TSA letter, context)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said on Tuesday in response to a lawsuit that it does not search electronic devices of air travelers for content.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit last week seeking government documents from the TSA detailing “searches of electronic devices belonging to people traveling on domestic flights.”
In 2017, the agency said that it had implemented stronger screening procedures for carry-on items that required passengers to place all electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening. TSA said the screening “is solely intended to verify that there has been no physical tampering or hidden threat placed within the electronic device.”
According to a TSA letter on Tuesday sent to the ACLU in response to the lawsuit, the agency said it “does not search electronic devices for electronic content that may be contained on the device, and does not extract data from passenger electronic devices.”
A TSA spokesman said the letter “confirms we do not search the contents of electronic devices.”
The ACLU of Northern California, which first sought the records in December 2017, said it had received the TSA letter and was considering its next steps.
“While TSA says they are not searching the contents of electronic devices, they haven’t provided documents to back that up,” said Vasudha Talla, a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.
The ACLU said in filing the lawsuit that Americans’ phones and laptops contain “very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant.”
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents do, at times, conduct searches of electronic devices at international border crossings, including airports, without first obtaining a warrant.
The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation in September 2017 sued the Trump administration over the practice in Boston. The government has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool)