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Under Suspicion: Student Challenges Laptop Seizure

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Planes at Newark Liberty Airport

Planes at Newark Liberty Airport (credit: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pascal Abidor, an Islamic studies doctoral student at McGill University in Montreal, fears the U.S. government will forever have its eye on him.

“I have no control over who I am anymore,” he told The Associated Press recently. “What I do with my life doesn’t matter. How I am perceived and how I want to be perceived are not connected anymore.”

Abidor, who is not Muslim, was on a train home to Brooklyn on May 1 when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent stopped him at the Champlain, N.Y., port of entry. The agent turned on Abidor’s computer and found a picture of a rally by the Hamas militant group, something he had downloaded from the Internet for schoolwork.

Abidor said the agents handcuffed him, took him off the train, questioned him for hours and told him they were keeping his computer and external hard drive. He was given an invoice warning him the contents would be copied and forwarded to any government agency requiring it.

His computer was returned 11 days later. Two weeks after that, he went to Britain to visit his girlfriend. When he returned, he was searched and questioned for an hour at the Newark airport in New Jersey.

“You could see the guy react as soon as he scanned my passport and the message came up,” Abidor said. “They went through everything, and asked the same questions: ‘Are you Muslim, are you a convert, do you go to lectures?”‘

Abidor has sued the Department of Homeland Security, saying the border agents had no right to go through his computer files without a warrant. The Department of Homeland Security said Abidor’s case was under investigation and would not comment on it.

But in court documents responding to the lawsuit, the government asserts that border agents “are not subject to any requirement of reasonable suspicion, probable cause or warrant.” It also says that computers are like “closed containers” and that border agents have the right to search and copy them without a warrant.

“Abidor offers no reason why a different standard should apply to him,” government lawyers wrote.

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(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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