US border search of Muslims was lawful, court says

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NEW YORK, Nov 27 (Reuters) US customs officers did not violate the constitutional rights of five Muslim US citizens returning from Canada who were detained and subjected to searches usually reserved for suspected terrorists, a court ruled.

The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower court's decision that said the searches did not invade privacy rights and were in the government's interest in preventing potential terrorists from entering the United States.

''We agree with the District Court that the government has a compelling interest in protecting against terrorism,'' the panel said in its decision yesterday.

The five Muslims, who had no criminal records and were not individually suspected of terrorism, said their privacy and religious rights were violated when they were questioned, patted-down, fingerprinted and held for hours in Buffalo in December 2004.

They were among 13,000 people from North America who had attended the three-day Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference in Toronto that included communal prayer, musical performance and speeches, the decision said.

At the time of the searches, US Customs and Border Control received intelligence that said the conference would serve as a possible meeting point for terrorists and ordered special searches for those returning to the United States, the decision said.

The plaintiffs were frisked, fingerprinted, had their cars searched and questioned for hours along with other Muslims without being told why, the decision said.

The plaintiffs had initially sought to stop the government from carrying out similar future searches and to expunge all the data the US government had collected as a result of the searches.

Reuters AK VP0602

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