SACRAMENTO, CA - Millions of Americans could have their electronic devices searched by the federal government without a warrant because of an exception to the 4th Amendment.
"For me, it's absolutely ridiculous," Penn Valley resident Stella Canfield said.
The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable search-and-seizure. But it doesn't apply to our nation's borders. The federal government has long been able to search people entering and exiting the country without a reason. It's known as the border search exception to the 4th Amendment.
Now, your electronic devices are also fair game.
It's an area of concern for Kevin Johnson, Dean of the UC Davis School of Law.
"I think we have a 4th Amendment that regulates government conduct and the idea that it doesn't apply in certain places doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Johnson said.
The ACLU calls it's the "Constitution Free Zone." It stretches 100 miles inland from the United States border, that includes Sacramento and Stockton.
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Since 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has been allowed to seize and review the contents of personal electronic devices all in the name of national security.
The agencies that monitor the border, including Customs and Border Protection can do this without probable cause. Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties just reviewed the practice, and reaffirmed it.
"Just because there are security concerns doesn't mean individual rights evaporate," Johnson said.
News10 contacted U.S Customs and Border protection. A statement from their office read:
"Keeping Americans safe and enforcing our nation's laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen all materials-electronic or otherwise-entering the United States."
The ACLU believes suspicionless searches open the door to profiling. But some said sacrifices have to be made in a post 9/11 world.
"To some degree it is justified," Los Angeles resident Williams Lukins said. "There's just a lot of people and a lot of different activities out there that we do need to be cautious of."
Critics argue it shouldn't be at the expense of the Constitution.
"I grew up in communism so for me fear is the worst thing," Canfield said. "I will never live in fear. I refuse to do that. For me, 100 miles, 1000 miles, it doesn't matter. Those are my rights."