WSJ Journalist Said Homeland Security Tried To Seize Her Phones At LAX
The Department of Homeland Security apparently detained Maria Abi-Habib, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, at LAX. The incident occurred after Abi-Habib flew into Los Angele from Beirut last week Thursday to attend a wedding. The journalist detailed the incident in a public Facebook post. She said she was pulled aside in the airport by an agent with the department who indicated she knew who she was and was there to help her "get through the line." This soon turned into an interrogation conducted by two agents, followed by the request that she turn over both of her phones so that the agent could "collect information." When she told them they would have to call the Wall Street Journal's attorneys as her phones belonged to them, she was told she was "hindering the investigation." Abi-Habib was released about a half an hour later with further incident.
Abi-Habib has both U.S. and Lebanese citizenship and was using a U.S. passport, CNN reports. According to her bio on WSJ, Abi-Habib is a "roving Middle East correspondent" who reports on terrorism issues. She reported out of Kabul starting in 2010, and has been in Beirut since 2013. In 2007, she covered the Persian Gulf region from Dubai.
The Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the encounter happened, and stated that the agency does have the power to take anyone's phones or computers as they enter the U.S. And they can do this for pretty much any reason. As Abi-Habib points out in her post, the DHS gave its agents the power to search whomever they want for whatever reason—or no reason—in 2013. "Reasonable suspicion" that this person is involved in some sort of criminal activity is not required.
Geoffrey King wrote about his own interaction with the agency in a post for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). King wrote that he had attended a conference in Brazil and was headed to San Francisco when he had a short layover in Miami. He was asked to wait in a holding room, then called into an interrogation room where he said the agent asked him if he watched Game of Thrones. Because, you see, his name is Geoffrey and a show villain is named Joffrey. Very important business, obviously. The agent then asked him what he did for a living, returned his passport and that was it. He missed his flight and airline staff helped him out. However, King pointed to another journalist, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, who said he had his phone sized twice and was detained numerous times.
King told the Guardian that CPJ has been concerned about the confiscation of electronics for several years.
"If you don't have any reason to suspect somebody of something, then you shouldn't be able to go into their devices just because they’re travelling internationally. In addition, and more specifically, that is particularly dangerous for journalists. It can put journalists in physical danger, it can put journalists in legal danger. It does at a more fundamental level harm the independence of journalists and their ability to report the news," King said.