How can a university help safeguard freedom of speech?


The Knight First Amendment Institute, opened at Columbia in early 2017, hit the ground running to protect First Amendment rights. In March 2017, the Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to document searches of people's electronic devices at the border without a warrant.

From about 5,000 in 2015 to 25,000 in 2016, US border officials' searches of electronic devices have increased dramatically. In February 2017 alone, officials searched 5,000 devices. The Institute is particularly wary of the department’s policies to search cellphones and laptops of journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates.

Knight requests information on the number of travelers whose devices have been searched, the policies tied to searching journalists, and internal audits of such practices by government civil rights agencies. Knight also seeks the release of information from a DHS database tracking every border search of electronic devices.

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education.

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