The American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over restrictions on taking photos and recording video at ports of entry, saying the policy prohibits the public from documenting possible misconduct by authorities.
The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of two activists who say authorities deleted their photos at California border crossings with Mexico.
The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in San Diego, says the Customs and Border Protection agency prohibits the public from taking photos at or near ports of entry without permission. It calls the policy a violation of constitutional rights to free speech and against illegal search and seizure.
Customs and Border Protection officials had no immediate comment when asked Thursday about the lawsuit and its policy on taking photographs.
The lawsuit said plaintiff Ray Askins took photos of an inspection area at a Calexico border crossing in April from a city street. After being handcuffed and searched, authorities returned his digital camera with photos erased.
The Calexico port director, Billy Whitford, told Askins in an email the next day that permission is needed to take photos and video at Customs and Border Protection facilities. The email makes no mention of restrictions on taking photos from a nearby street.
Christian Ramirez, human rights director at Equality Alliance San Diego, had about 10 cellphone photos deleted by authorities in June 2010 at San Diego's San Ysidro port of entry, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says he was on a pedestrian bridge, capturing images of male officers patting down women.