San Diegans' Electronic Devices Can Be Searched Without Warrant

Say goodbye to the First and Fourth Amendment. US citizens can have their electronics seized and search without a warrant.

San Diego citizens' electronic devices can be seized and search without a warrant. In fact, this can happen to anyone who lives in, what is now being called "the Constitution Free Zone." The Constitution Free Zone is a 100 mile area from all US borders (see image). Some estimates say that 66% of the US population lives in this area.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a two page summary of civil rights impacts that claims unwarranted search and seizures of electronic devices do not violate the Fourth Amendment to The Constitution in The Bill of Rights. In case you don't know the Fourth Amendment is as follows:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

DHS is claiming that just being within a 100 mile radius of any international and coastal border is enough probable cause to have any and all of your electronic devices seized and searched without a warrant. This clearly violates the Fourth Amendment.

Don't think that these searches are just for immigrants and foreign nationals coming into the country, because they are not. The American Civil Liberties Union, a nonpartisan group that works to protect all citizen's individual right and liberties guaranteed in the Constitution, filed a Freedom of Information Act Request for all the documents "about the government’s policy of searching travelers’ laptops and cell phones at U.S. border crossings without suspicion of wrongdoing" (1). Their findings were:


  • "Between October 2008 and June 2010, over 6,500 people traveling to and from the United States had their electronic devices searched at the border.  Nearly half of these people were U.S. citizens.
  • The devices the government searched included laptops, cell phones, cameras, hard drives, flash drives, and even DVDs.
  • Between October 2008 and June 2009, cell phones were the most commonly searched electronic devices, followed by laptops and digital cameras.
  • Between July 2008 and June 2009, border agents transferred data found on travelers' electronic devices to other federal agencies over 280 times. Half of the time, these unnamed agencies asserted an independent basis for retaining or seizing the data."


Federal Agents are using these unconstitutional powers to detain activists. Regardless of how you feel about any particular activist and their work, all activists and all citizens are protect by the First Amendment. David House, the co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network had his computer seized and searched. The DHS took the “complete Support Network mailing list, confidential communications between members of the Steering Committee about strategy and fund-raising activities, the identity of donors, lists of potential donors and their ability to contribute, and notes on meetings with donors including personal observations about those donors” (2). You can watch an excellent interview with David House on Democracy Now! where he shares why he does what he does, here.

Truthout has a piece by Todd Miller where he catalogs the experiences of one Egyptian-American crossing the Canada-US border in a post-9/11 world. Every time the student crosses the border he is detained, searched, and interrogated for hours. "When they are done, Matthews asks the agents what they would do if he were to circle around, reenter Canada, and cross the border again. The agents assure him that they would have to do the same exact thing -- handcuff, detain, and interrogate him as if his previous times had never happened" (3).

The ACLU has also filed a lawsuit against DHS in response to their seizure and warrantless search of a laptop belonging to a student, Pascal Abidor with both US and French citizenship. You can read a report on Abidor v. Napolitano and legal documents from the case, here.




Works Cited
1. "Government Data About Searches of International Travelers' Laptops and Personal Electronic Devices." American Civil Liberties Union 25 August 2010 <http://www.aclu.org/national-security/government-data-about-searches-international-travelers-laptops-and-personal-electr>
2. Poulsen, Kevin. "Bradley Manning Friend Sues DHS Over Seized Laptop." Wired 13 May 2011 <http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/05/house-suit/>
3. Miller, Todd. "Living in a Constitution-Free Zone: Drones, Surveillance Towers, and Malls of the Spy State" Truthout 7 February 2013 <http://truth-out.org/news/item/14422-living-in-a-constitution-free-zone-drones-surveillance-towers-and-malls-of-the-spy-state>

Related Links
DHS engages 'Constitution free' zones around US border from RT
DHS Finds Suspicionless Border Searches Do Not Violate Americans’ Civil Liberties from FireDogLake
Drone Patrols Grow on the Northern Border from Truthdig

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

BridgetBurns February 13, 2013 at 01:39 PM
All these years of living here I never knew I lived in a "Constitution Free Zone". I've got no problem with searches conducted at our borders, but anyplace within 100 miles is taking it a LITTLE tooooooo far in my humble opinion. Does this apply to all Constitutional Rights or just that of search and seizure?
sheeple herder February 13, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Just the fourth to start with. Don't worry, they are working on taking away the rest, one at a time.... 4th, check! 2nd, oops, little more difficult than they though.... Give them time...


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