In addition to the incidents described in the letter below, RSF has been made aware of cases of foreign journalists, like Karl Penhaul and Manuel Martorell, who have been prevented from traveling to the US after covering sensitive topics such as Colombia's FARC or Kurdistan. These cases constitute a serious violation of press freedom in the country of the First Amendment, which ranks 41 out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
December 12, 2016
Secretary Jeh Johnson
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Johnson,
The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders are writing to request a meeting with you on behalf of the ACOS Alliance, to discuss concerns journalists have raised about their experiences at U.S. borders. The ACOS Alliance comprises more than 90 leading press freedom and media organizations including CPJ, RSF, Frontline Freelance Register, the Associated Press, Agence-France Presse, and Reuters, which form the executive committee.
Several incidents the ACOS Alliance has been made aware of in recent months prompted the Alliance to contact the Department of Homeland Security to request a meeting, most recently in October when we sent two messages to Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs J. Todd Breasseale. We did not receive a reply to this or our previous requests. The lack of response, coupled with an incident involving a Canadian journalist traveling to the U.S. in October, have prompted us to elevate our concerns directly to you.
Award-winning Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou said he was detained for six hours and questioned at the U.S. border October 1. He said that before being denied entry to the U.S., officials searched his diary and confiscated and searched, or attempted to search, his electronic devices. Ou said he objected and told them that as a journalist he had an obligation to protect the confidentiality of his work. CPJ is aware of several other casessimilar to Ou's, where journalists have said they were stopped and searched.
We would like to meet with you prior to the transition to discuss the issues journalists say they face at border crossings, including the search of their materials and electronic devices. We are concerned about the threats such searches pose to press freedom and the confidentiality of journalist sources.
The Obama administration came in promising to be the most transparent in history, and last year Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a meeting of media industry executives, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and his staff to explore ways to better protect the press. Since then we have met regularly with the State Department to discuss issues related to journalist safety and security, and your colleagues there suggested we reach out to the Department of Homeland Security regarding border issues because they fall within the remit of your agency.
We would appreciate the opportunity to build a dialogue with you and your colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security, and look forward to hearing from you shortly.
Courtney C. Radsch, Advocacy Director, Committee to Protect Journalists
Delphine Halgand, U.S. Director, Reporters Without Borders
David Rohde, Reuters, ACOS Executive Committee
David Millikin, Director for North America at Agence France Presse, ACOS Executive Committee