CPJ, RSF ask journalists to share information about border stops, device searches

U.S. administration has refused dialogue with press freedom groups

New York, April 17, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are joining to document challenges that journalists face entering or exiting the United States. The organizations are calling on reporters to share cases of extra screenings, invasive searches of electronic devices, or difficulty obtaining visas to travel to the U.S.

CPJ, RSF, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, and other partners have documented at least 19 cases of journalists being stopped at the border since 2008. Nearly half were asked to unlock and turn over their cell phones, posing risks to unpublished work and confidential sources.

“Journalists are increasingly worried about their ability to protect their sources when crossing into the United States, but we don’t know exactly how many have had problems at the border,” said Courtney Radsch, CPJ’s advocacy director. “Administration officials have not lived up to their assurances on journalists’ rights or responded to our proposals for new guidelines, so it’s essential to document these cases and understand the full scope of the threats journalists face at borders.”

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol maintains that it has the authority to search the electronic devices of any individuals entering the country. The Supreme Court has upheld a “border search exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that authorities obtain a warrant, but it has not yet ruled on electronic device searches at the border. Many privacy advocates argue that there is a big difference between searching a suitcase to ensure that it doesn’t contain weapons or contraband and searching through someone’s private messages on their phone or laptop.

CPJ has documented cases of journalists being stopped and interrogated about details of private conversations, social media posts, and their work, while RSF has reported on journalists whose work on Syria, Kurdish issues, or the FARC in Colombia has made it difficult or impossible to travel to the United States. CPJ issued a safety advisory advising reporters of their rights when crossing the U.S. border. In 2017, CPJ and RSF–under the auspices of the ACOS Alliance, a coalition of news organizations, freelancers, and journalist groups working to improve protection standards for freelancers–sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly calling on him to reject any proposal to require social media profile and password information as a condition to enter the country.

“RSF has documented a number of journalists who experienced visa issues due to their reporting on sensitive topics that the U.S. government seems to have flagged as ‘terrorist activity’ or otherwise troubling,” said Margaux Ewen, RSF’s North America director. “But without additional data allowing us to paint a broader picture of how many journalists may have experienced this issue, there is little we can do to ensure that reporters won’t be penalized for their work by being unjustly denied entry.”


Journalists who have had problems entering or exiting the U.S. should contact:

Alexandra Ellerbeck at CPJ ([email protected])

Margaux Ewen at RSF ([email protected])

Or visit CPJ’s campaign page to fill out a survey.

Reports can remain anonymous.