Does What Happened to This Journalist at the US-Canada Border Herald a Darker Trend?

web16-blog-ed-ouBy Hugh Handeyside

The recent abusive border search of a Canadian photojournalist should serve as a warning to everyone concerned about press freedom these days.

Ed Ou is a renowned photographer and TED senior fellow who has traveled to the United States many times to do work for The New York Times, Time magazine, and other media outlets. Last month, Ed was traveling from Canada to the U.S. to report on the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota, when he was taken aside for additional inspection.

What came next left him questioning what he thought he knew about the U.S. government and the values it stands for, and we’re officially protesting to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Although Ed clearly identified himself as a journalist on his way to Standing Rock, the CBP officers detained him for more than six hours and subjected him to multiple rounds of intrusive interrogation.

They questioned him at length about his work as a journalist, his prior professional travel in the Middle East, and dissidents or “extremists” he had encountered or interviewed as a journalist. They photocopied his personal papers, including pages from his handwritten personal diary.

web16-protest-1160x768Ed Ou uses a camera to shield himself during clashes between anti-government protesters and pro-Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Egyptian Revolution in January 2011. (Photo by Guy Martin)

They also asked Ed to unlock the three mobile phones he uses to communicate in different locations worldwide. Ed told them he couldn’t agree to do that because of his ethical obligation as a journalist to protect his confidential sources. The officers took the phones, and when they returned them several hours later, the tamper tape covering the phones’ SIM cards was altered or missing, suggesting that the officers had removed and possibly copied the cards.

After all that, the officers denied Ed admission to the country without giving him a valid reason. One of the officers said he couldn’t provide any details. Another officer said that Ed’s refusal to grant access to his mobile phones “did not help.”

Ed’s treatment was unjustified and unlawful. Although CBP has the authority to stop and search travelers at the border for the purpose of identifying people who are inadmissible or engaged in criminal activity, the officers exceeded that authority. They had no legitimate cause to detain Ed for six hours, interrogate him about his professional activities, copy his diary, or search his phones. That abusive and harassing conduct is all the more troubling given that the officers apparently conditioned Ed’s admission to the U.S. on his willingness to assist them in searching his phones.

Ed’s ordeal is yet another indication that the government is treating the border as an all-purpose dragnet for intelligence gathering — an approach that is at odds with the Constitution, federal law, and CBP policies on border searches.

When CBP takes that approach to journalists, the dangers are particularly acute. Forcing journalists to turn over their newsgathering materials breaches confidences they are ethically required to honor, discourages reporting on current events, and turns journalists into unwilling agents of the national security state.

And conditioning foreign journalists’ admission to the United States on their willingness to agree to intrusive searches encourages similarly abusive treatment of American journalists in other countries.

web16-blog-walking-1160x768Ed Ou photographs a burned home after ethnic Kyrgyz mobs rampaged through minority Uzbek enclaves, burning homes and businesses in Shark, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Marina Gorobevskaya)

Treating journalists this way at the border diminishes knowledge of important issues and narrows vital public discourse. It risks eroding press freedom, which is a necessary pillar of democracy.

Ed is fighting back though.

We’ve sent a letter on his behalf to DHS and CBP seeking assurance that Ed will not be subjected to intrusive and inappropriate searches in the future because of his work as a journalist. We’re also asking the government to purge any confidential information it obtained inappropriately during the search.

That the Obama administration would subject a journalist like Ed to harassment and abusive inspection at the border is wrong and alarming. And what this administration claims the authority to do today, the next administration could claim the authority to do in January.

Check out Ed’s photos and reporting here.

Hugh Handeyside is a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project.

This article originally appeared at, and was sourced from

Top Image: Photojournalist Ed Ou, who was recently detained and interrogated about his work while crossing the U.S./Canada border. (Photo by Kitra Cahana)

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16 Comments on "Does What Happened to This Journalist at the US-Canada Border Herald a Darker Trend?"

  1. Yep–turn away journalist, but open wide for illegal on the southern border???

  2. Grace by Faith on yt | November 30, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Reply

    This event is not only outrageous, but it also calls into question the veracity of Edward Snowden’s “story”, in an obtuse sort of way. Anyone who has seen the HBO film “Citizenfour” remembers the beginning of the film where the filmmaker Laura Poitras was stopped numerous times at various nations’ entry points during her coverage of Edward Snowden’s exposure of the NSA and its various nefarious plans. She was detained and questioned at length at all of them, which she claims she subverted, but ultimately was allowed entry in all of them, I believe never losing her data or machines that held her data to their grubby little hands.

    Might it be because she was furthering their narrative, and was maybe even one of their agents/actors in on furthering their narrative? Sounds like it to me, a good-for-the-goose scenario where they let through only those that will make them money and/or spread their propaganda. So this incident with this young man means either they didn’t know what his intentions were because he was not in on their agenda, hence on the level for us interested in real journalism, or that this, too, is just another twist of continuity designed to throw us off and keep us confused/guessing at just exactly what they’ll do and when they’ll do it, and to whom.

    Whichever way is true, it’s full-bore chaos at borders now, and that’s a very bad sign for us, because we all know what comes after chaos.

    • Oh, it does not call into question Edward Snowden’s story. It has zero to do with it.

      Saying “whatever way is true” does not absolve you from spreading nonsense.This account of harassment is just as bad as what Poitras endured, just as unconstitutional, just as wrong, and just as obnoxious. Establishing some sort of nefarious connection between Poitras and Ou is pointless, unless it was a ham-handed way for you to try and lend yourself authority or credibility. Really, you might just want to edit that out.

      • Grace by Faith on yt | November 30, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Reply

        Not going to happen. I’m editing nothing, claimed no authority, nor offered up my credibility to be scrutinized just for giving my opinion. It’s only food for thought, and you can take it or leave it, makes no difference to me. I stand by every word and it’s really not my fault that you can’t quite make the correlation. Thank you for your opinion, and have a lovely evening.

        • You’re obviously making a smear by association, a smear that is baseless, and used only for propaganda purposes. If you’re going to poison the well with such nonsense, learn to do a more subtle job.

          Put another way? Drop dead, shill, you stand out like a sore thumb.

          • Grace by Faith on yt | December 1, 2016 at 12:23 pm |

            That’s my point entirely, the well was poisoned a long, long time ago, but not by me. I’m just connecting dots as I see them to try to help wake folks up to what’s really going on and how deep it really goes before it’s too late for them, and there is no fault in that. God bless~

          • Obviously a hopelesly inculcated ‘hypnozomb…or…an unapologetic entrenched troll …cheers G

          • Grace by Faith on yt | December 4, 2016 at 5:04 pm |

            I know, right? They’re out in full force now, trying to throw (freemasonic?) bricks into our windows of insight. Little do they know our windows aren’t made of glass but of diamond, and their flaccid little bricks are impotent against them. Cheers back, Eddy 😉

    • He does work for the New York Times and Time Magazine as well as gets into places that most people cannot. Your discernment is keen.

    • Another point to ponder is the ABUNDANCE of little snakes available for use by these synagogue-owned “free” western nations against those attempting to expose their hypocrisy. Compare with the same sub-species used as LEO’s in Sewer Nation et al. All the while these thugs are lauded to Idiot Culture as “heroes” via the kosher media….. That explains why there are many, many more maggots “feeding” off of a rotting corpse than corpses.

      • Grace by Faith on yt | December 2, 2016 at 9:08 am | Reply

        No kidding! Order takers for these so-called rulers are everywhere, and to think they sell themselves and us out just for a measly paycheck. Can’t trust the media (including wikileaks, AND Edward Snowden), and can’t trust order takers in any capacity if they work for the mind controllers (gov’t) of any nation, especially at the borders. Once in a while an ethical journalist pops up, and those are easily discerned because they get stopped. They’re pulling out their big bags of tricks now, if not to hush us up, to confuse us until we do hush up. As if…

  3. The US became the enemy to freedom it was forever complaining about, and its deployment of NATO troops on Russia’s border becomes the new Iron Curtain.

  4. Of course this treatment of Ed Ou is outrageous but everyone crossing the border into the USA these days should treat this as though they are entering hostile enemy territory. If they must take along electronic devices then they should at least consider taking clean devices with absolutely no private information on them. I will never go there myself but others must and if they value their privacy then they must proactively protect it.

  5. This is exactly what the ACLU should be doing, protecting Free Speech and the Freedom Associated therewith to Journalists. May you win millions and punish these despicable officials!!!! What a vicious, abusive and brutal confrontation by lawless officials. So, ACLU is going after the DHS as the supervisors of the TSA, aka Airport Gestapo? For the Pro-Obama crowd, please understand that these despicable acts are being carried out by Obama’s own administration at a time when Obama is allowing millions of Islamic fanatics into the US without any Vetting at all. All of the TSA/DHS goons are told to stand down when the tourist or immigrant is a Muslim or from a terrorist nation. As a consequence of this outrage, Americans need to double down and protect the Standing Rock protesters!

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