Your electronic devices are subject to seizure and search if you’re within 100 miles of the US border without a warrant–even if you have done nothing to raise any suspicion. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quietly posted notice. If within 100 miles of the US border, travelers’ electronic equipment may be seized and its contents searched.
Map outlines in orange the “Constitution-free zone” of the United States, an area that stretches 100 miles inward from the borders of the nation. Nearly two-thirds of the US population live in this area wherein the Fourth Amendment guarantees are suspended. [Image credit: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)]
This is acceptable, according to a new government report, not only without a warrant but even if there’s no reason for suspicion. Wired reports the practice was declared perfectly legal by the DHS watchdog assessor. After all, it’s all done in the name of national security.
You’re not convinced? Neither is the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a Freedom of Information request Friday demanding to see the full report.
Back in 2009, DHS had announced an upcoming “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of its suspicionless search-and-seizure policy for electronic devices. That assessment was going to happen “within 120 days.” But now, more than three years later, a mere two-page summary of the findings of that assessment quietly appeared on the DHS website.
The assessment’s conclusion, says the ACLU, is “highly questionable.” The border search policy, according to the executive summary, does not violate the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, neither does it dampen First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, nor does it produce discriminatory search practices.
ACLU attorney Catherine Crump simply hopes to establish that “the Department of Homeland Security can’t simply assert that its practices are legitimate without showing us the evidence…” Further, the ACLU would like to clarify “that the government’s own analyses of how our fundamental rights apply to new technologies should be openly accessible to the public for review and debate.”
Suspicionless electronics search
President George W. Bush’s administration first announced the suspicionless, electronics search rules in 2008. And the next year, the Obama administration enforced virtually the same rules. DHS data reveals 6,500 persons had their electronic devices searched along the U.S. border between 2008 and 2010.
Legal precedent excludes the border from rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment — the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This area, by government contention, stretches 100 miles inland from the nation’s actual border. This includes the coastal borders, and because most of the US population is concentrated along the coasts, the “Constitution-free zone” wherein the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply includes some 66 percent of the population, or approximately two-thirds of the nation’s citizens.
Minimally, a “reasonable suspicion” to prompt such a search should be requisite. That still falls far short of the Constitutional-level standard as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.
The Case of Pascal Abidor
One unlucky 26-year-old dual U.S.-French citizen stumbled into the electronics policy in 2010 while on a trip home to New York. Abidor was travelling from Montreal on an Amtrak train when his laptop was not only searched by also confiscated by Custom and Border Patrol officers.
Abidor, an Islamic Studies doctoral student, was questioned, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charges. When his laptop was returned 11 days later, there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.
Abidor’s only “wrongdoing,” says the ACLU, was crossing the border as an Islamic Studies graduate student at a Canadian university after having recently traveled to the Middle East. They represent Abidor in a lawsuit that is pending in New York federal court.
Some say it hasn’t been a good year for US civil rights and liberties.
As 2012 ended, President Obama quietly signed a five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. This guaranteed unchecked surveillance authority for the rest of his presidency. Government surveillance of Americans’ international emails and phone calls–without obtaining a court order for each intercept–would have died without his end-of-year signature.
The first-ever use of an unmanned drone to assist in the arrest of an American citizen was upheld in federal court last summer. And this weekend, fugitive Christopher Dorner became the first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on US soil, asLos Angeles police announced plans to hunt him with the flight technology, accoridng to reports in multiple media outlets.
This week the Obama administration came under fire when an unclassified memo from the Justice Department revealed that it allows for the killing of Americans through an expansive definition of what constitutes an “imminent” threat.
Related, by author: Does My Laptop Have a Right to Remain Silent?
ZeroHedge. Goodbye Fourth Amendment: Homeland Security Affirms “Suspicionless” Confiscation Of Devices Along Border
Wired. DHS Watchdog OKs ‘Suspicionless’ Seizure of Electronic Devices Along Border
Common Dreams. Obama Quietly Signs Abusive Spy Bill He Once Vowed to Eliminate
US News. Court Upholds Domestic Drone Use in Arrest of American Citizen
Express. Man hunt for ex-soldier who shot police chief’s daughter and killed policeman
Associated Press. Justice Department document says it’s legal to kill U.S. citizens abroad
Democracy Now. Obama administration agrees to share assassination memos after uproar