Federal agencies, including the FBI and IRS, as well as Interpol, can feed TECS with information and flag travelers' files.
In one case that reached a federal appeals court, Howard Cotterman wound up in the TECS system because a 1992 child sex conviction. That "hit" encouraged border patrol agents to detain his computer, which was found to contain child pornography. Cotterman's case ended up before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled this spring that the government should have reasonable suspicion before conducting a comprehensive search of an electronic device; but that ruling only applies to states that fall under that court's jurisdiction, and left questions about what constitutes a comprehensive search.
In the case of House, he showed up in TECS in July 2010, about the same time he was helping to establish the Bradley Manning Support Network. His TECS file, released as part of his settlement agreement, was the document that told border agents House was wanted in the questioning of the leak of classified material.
It wasn't until late October, though, that investigators noticed House's passport number in an airline reservation system for travel to Los Cabos. When he returned to Chicago O'Hare airport, the agents waiting for him took House's laptop, thumb drive, digital camera and cellphone. He was questioned about his affiliation with Manning and his visits to Manning in prison. The agents eventually let him go and returned his cell phone. But the other items were detained and taken to an ICE field office in Manhattan.
Seven weeks after the incident, House faxed a letter to immigration authorities asking that the devices be returned. They were sent to him the next day, via Federal Express.
By then agents had already created an "image" of his laptop, according to the documents. Because House had refused to give the agents his password and apparently had configured his computer in such a way that appeared to stump computer forensics experts, it wasn't until June 2011 that investigators were satisfied that House's computer didn't contain anything illegal. By then, they had already sent a second image of his hard drive to Army criminal investigators familiar with the Manning case. In August 2011, the Army agreed that House's laptop was clean and promised to destroy any files from House's computer.
Catherine Crump, an ACLU lawyer who represented House, said she doesn't understand why Congress or the White House are leaving the debate up to the courts.
"Ultimately, the Supreme Court will need to address this question because unfortunately neither of the other two branches of government appear motivated to do so," said Crump.
House, an Alabama native, said he didn't ask for any money as part of his settlement agreement and that his primary concern was ensuring that a document containing the names of Manning Support Network donors didn't wind up in a permanent government file. The court order required the destruction of all his files, which House said satisfied him.
He is writing a book about his experiences and his hope to create a youth-based political organization. House said he severed ties with the Support Network last year after becoming disillusioned with Manning and WikiLeaks, which he said appeared more focused on destroying America and ruining lives than challenging policy.
"That era was a strange time," House said. "I'm hoping we can get our country to go in a better direction."
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