Freelance journalist asked for social media information during secondary screening

November 21, 2019

Freelance journalist Scott Preston was stopped for secondary screening at U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance in Beirut, Lebanon, on June 6, 2018, while en route to Chicago from the United Arab Emirates.

Preston told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he had been through “special security treatment” in the past, but that this incident stood out. When passing through the screening area, CBP officers asked what he did and why he was traveling to the United States, then directed him to secondary screening.

Though Preston had previously passed through security, he told CPJ that he was directed through a second metal detector, patted down and taken to a separate room with multiple security cameras and an officer sitting behind a desk. Taking notes on a computer, the CBP officer asked Preston to account for as much of his four years in Lebanon as possible and about all of the countries where he had traveled and reported.

The officer also asked Preston for proof of his publications and how he “really” earned money: Preston said the officer seemed to not believe that it was economically feasible for him to rely on freelancing alone. The officer kept insisting that point until Preston said he had a roommate with whom he split living expenses, to which the officer responded, “Ah, that makes more sense.”

Preston pulled up his resume on his laptop to prove that he was a journalist and provide the officer with proof of his publications. While his laptop was open, the officer also asked Preston for information about his social media use, including what his handle and usernames were, and asking for him to pull them up.

Preston told CPJ that the officer did not ask to see his cell phone, and at no point were any of his electronic devices removed from his sight.

After approximately 20 minutes of questioning, Preston was allowed to leave. He told CPJ that he was in secondary screening for around 45 minutes to an hour.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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