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Bradley Manning supporter targeted by feds wins early victory

David House, a founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, can continue with his lawsuit against the Feds after his laptop was seized at the border.

A founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, who says federal agents seized his laptop because of his support for the alleged Wiki-leaker, will have his day in court.

U.S. District Judge Denise Casper in Boston yesterday ruled that a lawsuit challenging activist David House's border searches and other interviews by government agents may continue.

Accused Wiki-leaker Bradley Manning
Accused Wiki-leaker Bradley Manning

In an opinion (PDF) rejecting the U.S. government's request to dismiss the case, Casper wrote that just because "the initial search and seizure occurred at the border does not strip House of his First Amendment rights," especially because it would have disclosed "internal organization communications" related to the support network.

House is a friend of Manning, and visited him a few times at the U.S. Marine Corps' Quantico brig before running into some problems during a visit last year. A video obtained by Frontline shows Manning, temporarily on leave from Iraq, at a January 2010 party hosted by House at Boston University's BUILDS student-supported hacker space, which he helped to found.

Manning, an Army private, was originally charged in July 2010 with sending a military video to a person not authorized to receive it and with obtaining "more than 150,000 diplomatic cables" from the State Department. WikiLeaks began to release the department's internal cables later that year, following its publication of military dispatches from Afghanistan and Iraq a few months earlier.

In February 2012, Manning was formally arraigned as part of the court-martial process, and another preliminary hearing is set for next month.

House, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, arguing that searching and seizing his electronic devices at the border violates his First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights.

It alleges the unconstitutional search of his hard drive, which was unencrypted, and other devices happened in November 2010, when House was returning from a Mexico vacation and connecting through Chicago's O'Hare airport. House says that a pair of Homeland Security agents questioned him about Manning, the support network, and WikiLeaks.

Yesterday's ruling was only a preliminary one -- it said House had "asserted a plausible" Fourth Amendment and First Amendment claim -- and the lawsuit will continue. And Casper denied a request from House to force Homeland Security to disclose exactly what they did with the data from the seized devices.