Is There a ‘Constitution-Free’ Zone Where Cameras Can Be Seized Without Cause?


The ACLU writes that there’s a 100-mile-thick buffer around the borders of the US called “The Constitution-Free Zone,” in which electronic devices (e.g. laptops and cameras) can be searched and seized without suspicion. Wired writes that a man’s laptop was seized in this zone in 2010 and returned 11 days later:

At an Amtrak inspection point, Pascal Abidor showed his U.S. passport to a federal agent. He was ordered to move to the cafe car, where they removed his laptop from his luggage and “ordered Mr. Abidor to enter his password,” according to the lawsuit.

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.

This zone made quite a few headlines early last month. Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center looked into this issue, and concludes that the ACLU’s argument is confusing at best.

(via Mint Press News)

Thanks for sending in the tip, Geoffrey!

  • Rob

    No, there is not, and the U.S. Government can go Fu** themselves if they want my password or photos without a warrant. My constitutional rights supercede their imaginary 100 mile line. NEVER talk to police or government goons without your attorney, they are NOT your friends. Fight them every step of the way, and defend your rights. http://www.photographyisnotacrime.com

  • Oh no

    But wait, wasn’t it, freedom, liberty and free choice, to practice democracy. In which of those two the “Constitution free zone fits.

  • Catalin

    isn’t an airport considered an US border ? if so, then the area covered is much much larger

  • anonymous

    Interesting that this was posted on the same day that the 9th Circuit United States Court of Appeals handed down its en banc decision in United States v. Cotterman. In this case, a search of a computer began at the border, and was continued in a forensics lab 170 miles away based on reasonable suspicion alone.
    Rob, your rights at the border are limited. For those unfamiliar with this, the Court explains this in part III of its opinion.

  • Zach Sutton Photography

    Poor Michigan…

  • Mike

    I don’t live in the USA, but this seems very odd to me. This is the first I have heard of a Constitution-Free Zone, do any of the usual rights not apply in this zone? I would think that the majority of US citizens live in this zone because it’s along the coasts.

  • Ken Jones

    So, Rob, the next time you’re coming back into the country and an agent asked for whatever, go right ahead. Make sure your camera is rolling so you can send Mr. Miller more video on how all cops are bad and you were detained for “no reason.” That would be an interesting read.

  • Ken Jones

    Read the linked articles. It’s bogus.

    Short version: only AT the border do agents have the right to make warrantless searches without suspicion. YOU’RE the one that is making the claim that you have the right to enter the country and by extension the things you are bringing into the country.

    The 100 mile radius is where they could approach you make the same search IF they have reasonable suspicion you have contraband or are engaged in illegal activities AND have reason to believe you’ve recently entered the country.

    So, no, if you’re walking around the mall in a coastal town a DHS agent can not legally simply walk up to you and snatch a phone out of your hand start going through it.

    If one does, sue the snot out of him/her.

  • Rob

    That’s not what I said, and you know it dickhead. Most of these checkpoints are 15, 25, 50 miles inside the border, long after the initial border inspection/citizenship verification has been done. You do NOT have to comply with border patrol that far inside the US. Saying you must comply and show them your papers is a very fascist concept. I know not all cops are bad, and that there are good cops out there, I’ve just never met one.

  • Ken Jones

    What ever.

    Interestingly, I’ve lived most of my life within 100 miles of the coast/border and don’t even CARRY “papers.” I like how you folks call them “papers” like it’s some kind of Nazi Germany movie. I carry my drivers license when drive and my CWP when I carry concealed. I generally carry nothing but my RoadID when out exercising and have yet to be confronted by stormtroopers demanding to see my “papers” and I live near a major coastal port with a major military base, international airport, and multiple DHS training facilities. I haven’t been asked once.

    Additionally, what “proof” do yo have to show at these inboard checkpoints? None. But it IS their business to ask whether you belong here or not.

  • Mike

    Thanks Ken.

  • Drew Palmer

    Carrying a driver’s license is pretty much the modern definition of carrying “papers.” The concealed weapons permit as well.