It’s another sad tale for the American Civil Liberties Union in general and for one Canadian in particular. Photographer and journalist Edward Ou was attempting to enter the United States to cover the ongoing protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline when Border Patrol agents stopped him. During the ensuing conversation, Ou ran into some trouble and wound up in a six hour encounter with officials before being turned away. The ACLU is, of course, up in arms. (Washington Post)
Award-winning Canadian photojournalist Edward Ou has had plenty of scary border experiences while reporting from the Middle East for the past decade. But his most disturbing encounter was with U.S. Customs and Border Protection last month, he said.
On Oct. 1, customs agents detained Ou for more than six hours and briefly confiscated his mobile phones and other reporting materials before denying him entry to the United States, according to Ou. He was on his way to cover the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline on behalf of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation.
If Ou had already been inside the U.S. border, law enforcement officers would have needed a warrant to search his smartphones to comply with a 2014 Supreme Court ruling. But the journalist learned the hard way that the same rules don’t apply at the border, where the government claims the right to search electronic devices without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing.
At a quick glance this tale has all the elements of something to make liberal protesters’ mouths drool. A journalist has their cell phones seized and is seemingly shaken down by the evil Border Patrol. This must be a great injustice and threat to the First Amendment taking place right before our eyes. But not so fast there, cowboy.
Ou is not an American citizen. That means that he doesn’t automatically have access to the United States without the proper documentation. Simply being a journalist doesn’t confer any sort of right to skip over security protocols. Nor does it mean that you are exempt from having your belongings searched before you enter. The ACLU is making the argument that the BP must have taken the memory cards out of Ou’s phones to copy them, but they provide no proof of that. But even if they had been digging through his phones, the article goes on to admit that officials have the right to search electronic devices. In fact, that’s one of the key tools we have these days to catch terrorists.
It seems to me that there has to be more than meets the eye here. The agents don’t just randomly yank someone out of line and interrogate them for six hours for no reason. Did Ou have the proper documents? One small item which is brushed over fairly loosely in the report is that even after this entire ordeal, they denied him entry to the United States. That tells me that he either didn’t have proper identification to cross over or he was giving them such a hard time and refusing to cooperate that they turned him around. Possibly both.
News flash: You’re not a citizen and you are not automatically allowed to enter the country, regardless of your profession or stated purpose. And if you act up in a way which raises the agents’ suspicions you’re not going to be getting in. Rather than condemning the Border Patrol for this incident, the ACLU should be giving them an award for doing their jobs. And Mr. Ou should be particularly thankful that this was the Canadian border and not the one on the southern side. If he’d been caught there he might have wound up eating burritos all day. (Yes, you should click on that link.)