Is there really a government law that disallows the Fourth Amendment for 200 million Americans? Some people say it’s true, but the reasoning behind a 100-mile “Constitution-free” zone argument is confusing at best.
The ACLU’s Constitution-Free Zone
The American Civil Liberties Union has been saying since 2010 that a regulation allowing customs and immigration agents to search electronic devices at America’s borders without cause is wrong. Two years prior to that, the ACLU also warned of a 100-mile-wide U.S. border called the “Constitution-free zone” where such searches could occur.
Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a two-page review
of its policy on searching laptops, cell phones, and other devices at border checks, to clarify the policy that the ACLU had questioned in 2010.
The DHS said that customs and immigration agents can “exercise long-standing constitutional and statutory authority permitting suspicionless and warrantless searches of merchandise at the border and its functional equivalent.”
The story was picked up by Wired magazine
and some tech and political blogs as another example of the 100-mile “Constitution-free” zone and a violation of Fourth Amendment
The ACLU also asked for the details behind the decision to be released
To be sure, the ACLU has played a valuable role in the debate since 2008 and has obtained many government files about electronic-device searches
after filing Freedom of Information Act requests.
But the confusion seems to be centered on the idea of a 100-mile extended border for the United States, and how nearly 200 million Americans could have their laptops, cell phones, and iPads searched at any moment.
In a lawsuit filed in 2010, the ACLU argued that “we are not saying that the government can never search or seize electronic devices at the border, but only that border agents should have some suspicion that the search will turn up evidence of wrongdoing before looking through all the private information that people have stored in their devices.”
The 100-mile-wide border zone is from that earlier missive from the ACLU in 2008, which claimed the electronics-search zone applied to any person who lived within 100 miles of a land or sea border—which happens to be two-thirds of the American population. At the time, the ACLU labeled the area as the “Constitution-free zone.”