How can a university help safeguard freedom of speech?

The Knight First Amendment Institute, opened at Columbia in early 2017, hit the ground running in its mission to protect First Amendment rights. In March, the Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), seeking to document rising border searches of travelers’ electronic devices.

Searches of electronic devices by US border officers have increased dramatically, rising from about 5,000 in 2015 to about 25,000 in 2016. In February 2017 alone, border officials searched 5,000 devices. Of particular concern to the Knight Institute are the department’s policies for searching the cellphones and laptops of journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates.

The Institute seeks 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 is also looking for information from a DHS database that tracks every border search of a device.

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. Learn more.

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