(MintPress) – Electronic devices in the possession of U.S. citizens and others as they cross the U.S. border can be searched without any reasonable suspicion, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as it has been decided these search and seizures are not an infringement on Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights.
Searches of personal electronics without probable cause were first announced by President George W. Bush in 2008, but has been a continued practice under President Obama.
Now a decision from the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties upheld the DHS’ policy of seizing electronics such as laptops, cell phones and android devices, without the need of a warrant, probable cause or reasonable suspicion, citing that the Fourth Amendment — which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures — does not apply along the border.
According to Wired.com, the government considers the “Fourth Amendment-Free Zone” as stretching 100 miles inland from the actual border, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) refers to as the Constitution-Free Zone.
Since the zone reaches so far inland, the Constitution-Free Zone is applied to the entire states of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island, meaning you don’t have to be crossing a border to have your electronics searched.
Estimates from the ACLU suggest that two out of three Americans, about 200 million, have had their Constitutional rights violated by this policy alone and that two out of three Americans live in the Constitution-Free Zone.
In response, the ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the entire DHS report regarding the department’s decision to grant searches of electronic devices without a warrant or the presence of any suspicious behavior.
By filing the request, Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney, said the group hopes to “establish that the Department of Homeland Security can’t simply assert that its practices are legitimate without showing us the evidence, and to make it clear 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.
“We hope to establish that the Department of Homeland Security can’t simply assert that its practices are legitimate without showing us the evidence and to make it clear 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,” she added.
The ACLU also filed a lawsuit on behalf of at least one American citizen, with a dual French citizenship, 26-year-old Pascal Abidor, who had his laptop searched while at an Amtrak inspection point in 2010, as he traveled from Canada to his parents home in New York.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU states that “Abidor was ordered to move to the cafe car, where they removed his laptop from his luggage and ‘ordered Mr. Abidor to enter his password.’” He was handcuffed, frisked and kept in a holding cell for several hours.
“Agents asked him about pictures they found on his laptop, which included Hamas and Hezbollah rallies. He explained that he was earning a doctoral degree at a Canadian university on the topic of the modern history of Shiites in Lebanon. He was handcuffed and then jailed for three hours while the authorities looked through his computer while numerous agents questioned him, according to the suit, which is pending in New York federal court.”
Though Abidor was eventually released, the DHS kept his laptop for 11 days, until his lawyer complained.
Groups such as the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Press Photographers Association were plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit against the DHS as well. The lawyers say the search procedures expose privileged communication materials and the photographers argue the searches interfere with their ability to do their work, since the DHS policy states that information found on laptops, cell phones, hard drives and other devices, can be kept by the DHS or shared with others.
American’s rights began unraveling during the George W. Bush administration, under the premise that American’s had to give up their rights so the government, specifically the DHS, could protect U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks. Under the “Patriot Act,” U.S. citizens were stripped of their First and Fourth Amendment rights under the premise that this was the only way the U.S. government could defend its borders and thwart any terrorist acts.
Under the Patriot Act, the government has suspended habeas corpus, meaning all people can be detained by the government indefinitely without a hearing, and the government can conduct surveillance on and wiretap email and phone conversations without informing citizens, among other things.
But the “assault” on constitutional rights has continued under President Obama, most noticeably with the “legal finding” by the Department of Justice that the executive branch has the power to assassinate U.S. citizens abroad without due process.
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