Jack Gillum

WASHINGTON: A group of First Amendment attorneys sued the Trump administration on Monday over access to data showing how often U.S. citizens and visitors had their electronic devices searched and the contents catalogued at American border crossings.

The complaint by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute said the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t moved quickly on its request, which sought information about the number of people whose devices were searched at the border, complaints about the practice and government training materials.

The lawsuit marks an early challenge under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act for President Donald Trump, who has pushed for an aggressive border-security policy and tried twice to enact temporary travel restrictions from several majority-Muslim countries. Federal courts have so far stymied those efforts.

The Knight Institute had asked for a detailed number of travelers whose electronic devices, such as cellphones and computers, were searched and how often their data were shared. It also sought a breakdown of those device seizures by race, ethnicity, nationality and citizenship status, as well as details from a government database that tracks device searches.

The group said its March 15 records request concerned “the indiscriminate search of Americans’ electronic devices at the border” that raised key legal questions about free speech and privacy protections. It sued in federal court in Washington after arguing the government didn’t respond to a request to fast-track its FOIA inquiry, a practice allowed in some cases.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Sarah Rodriguez, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Representatives from the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return messages seeking comment Monday.