Abdulkadir Nur v. Unknown U.S. Customs & Border Protection Agents, et al., No. 1:22-cv-00169-AJT-JFA (E.D. Va., filed Feb. 17, 2022)

Abdulkadir Nur is a 69-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in Somalia but lives in northern Virginia. Mr. Nur is also Muslim. As a business owner and humanitarian, Mr. Nur frequently travels internationally, and every single time he arrives back in the United States after traveling overseas, CBP officers have illegally seized any phone or laptop he has with him.

In September 2008, Mr. Nur was providing logistical support to a United Nations relief program in Somalia when his caravan was raided by local insurgents. Following the event, a United Nations Monitor Group launched an investigation, and ultimately found that Mr. Nur had not done anything improper. However, the investigation drew the attention of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, who demanded financial records and data from Mr. Nur and his company. Mr. Nur fully complied with the investigation, and both the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office told Mr. Nur that they wouldn’t be looking into the event any further.

However, since that time, Mr. Nur has been the target of increased scrutiny at airports and border crossings, always being subjected to secondary inspection and interrogation. In 2018, the intensity of this scrutiny increased – following every flight Mr. Nur has taken into the United States since then, CBP officers have seized Mr. Nur’s electronic devices and demanded the passwords. Believing he had no choice and not wanting to further prolong his detention, Mr. Nur gave his passwords to the officers, who then left the room with his devices, eventually returning them upon his release. When Mr. Nur eventually began refusing to give officers the passwords, the officers would still take Mr. Nur’s devices, sometimes seizing them and holding them for days or weeks.

Mr. Nur believes that following the incident in Somalia, he was placed on a federal terrorist watchlist known as the “Terrorism Screening Database” for those suspected to have ties to domestic terrorism. However, in order to be placed on the watchlist, the federal government need only have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is “reasonably suspected” of nefarious activities – a standard far lower than “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” that often leads to people being placed on the watchlist merely for being a friend or community member of someone on the watchlist, rendering the list highly over-inclusive. The FBI itself has admitted that it is “not aware of any instance where [the identifying information included on the watchlist] alone prevented an act of terrorism.” Mr. Nur believes that his placement on the watchlist has caused his repeated detention, interrogation, and seizure of his devices. 

On February 17, 2022, Mr. Nur filed a lawsuit alleging that CBP’s searches and seizures of his devices based solely on his inclusion on the watchlist violate the Fourth Amendment and that officers compelling him to provide his device passwords violates his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He also alleges that CBP’s policies of searching and seizing him and other U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents included on the federal watchlist are unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act.

He seeks, among other things, a declaratory judgment that Defendants must have reasonable suspicion apart from watchlist status before performing nonroutine search and seizures of persons on the watchlist or forensic searches of their electronic devices and that Mr. Nur’s placement on the watchlist imposed unlawful consequences on him. He also seeks an injunction prohibiting Defendants from searching someone’s device because of their watchlist status or ordering individuals at the border to provide passwords or other access to their electronic devices, and ordering Defendants to remove Mr. Nur’s watchlist status and expunge records regarding his status and information illegally seized from him. Mr. Nur also seeks damages pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unnamed Agents.

Documents:
Complaint

Counsel: CAIR Legal Defense Fund

Contacts:
Lena Masri | lmasri@cair.com
Gadeir Abbas | gabbas@cair.com
Justin Sadowsky | jsadowsky@cair.com
Kimberly Noe-Lehenbauer | knoelehenbauer@cair.com