ACLU: Feds to destroy data seized from supporter of Army private in Wikileaks case

BOSTON – The federal government has agreed to destroy all data obtained from a computer and other electronic devices seized from an outspoken advocate of an Army private accused of sending more than 700,000 classified U.S. documents to Wikileaks, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Thursday.

The settlement comes in a lawsuit in which David House accused authorities of violating his constitutional rights when he was stopped at a Chicago airport in returning home to Massachusetts from abroad. A federal judge more than a year ago refused to dismiss the lawsuit.

The ACLU said the government also agreed to hand over numerous documents related to the use of the seized data and questioning of House, a founding member of The Bradley Manning Support Network.

“The seizure of David House’s computer is a chilling example of the government’s overbroad ability to conduct a search at the border that intrudes into a person’s political beliefs and associations,” said John Reinstein, an attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Those rights were vindicated by the settlement we reached.”

The ACLU posted a copy of the agreement on its website. Allison Price, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which defended the government in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the settlement. The posted copy said that the government does not admit to any wrongdoing and that House may continue to be subject to lawful searches and inspections.

Pfc. Bradley Manning has been charged with indirectly aiding the enemy by causing classified material to be published on WikiLeaks. His 3-year-old espionage case is headed for trial Monday at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.

In a February statement, Manning said he leaked the Afghan and Iraq battlefield reports, State Department cables and video of a U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed a Reuters news photographer and his driver because he wanted the public to know how the American military was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with little regard for human life.

House, who was living in Cambridge, was stopped by Homeland Security agents in 2010 as he arrived back in the U.S. at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. House said his property wasn’t returned for seven weeks. It included his laptop, a thumb drive and video camera.

The ACLU said his personal information as well as private documents related to the Manning network were copied during that time and given to other federal agencies, including military criminal investigators who concluded that they would not use the information.

House alleges that federal officials targeted him based on his association with the network that raised money for Manning’s legal defence.

Documents that the government agreed to surrender include reports describing the Army Criminal Investigation Division’s inspection of House’s data as well as a Department of Homeland Security “Lookout” telling agents to stop House as he entered the country, the ACLU said in a statement.

“The government’s surrender of this data is a victory through vital action not only for the citizens put at risk, but also for anyone who believes that Americans should be free to support political causes without fearing retaliation from Washington,” House said.

He said the settlement ensures that people who contributed money to pay for Manning’s legal defence would not be met with retaliation and their identities would be reclaimed from authorities who copied the data from his electronic devices.