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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Muslim Rights Advocate Has Valid Privacy Case

CINCINNATI (CN) - A Muslim American can pursue Privacy Act claims against the government after she was detained at the Canadian border because she was mistakenly classified in a federal computer system as "armed and dangerous," the 6th Circuit ruled.

Julia Shearson lives in Ohio and works as a regional office director for national nonprofit dedicated to Muslim civil rights. As Shearson was driving into New York with her 4-year-old daughter from a weekend trip to Canada in 2006, Border Patrol agents handcuffed and detained her for several hours.

When they had scanned the mother and daughter's passports, a Customs computer flashed "ARMED AND DANGEROUS."

After damaging Shearson's vehicle in a search, the agents released Shearson and her daughter without any explanation.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection later admitted that the computer alert was false and released nine pages of heavily redacted documents when Shearson requested information about her detainment under the Privacy Act. Shearson filed suit in the Northern District of Ohio after the agency withheld another three documents it later uncovered.

Agreeing with Customs and the Department of Homeland Security, a federal judge found that the government's records were exempted under the Privacy Act and dismissed Shearson's claims in summary judgment. The Cincinnati-based federal appeals court concluded otherwise on Thursday.

The Privacy Act does not exempt the government's Treasury Enforcement Communications System and Automated Targeting System from the improper disclosure of records or from collecting records of protected First Amendment activity, Judge Helene White wrote for a three-judge panel.

Five other exemptions were properly applied, however, White found.

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