It is hard for me to understand the meaning of the bold sentence below, has America ever had territory outside of judicial authority, the only explanation so far I have is probably territory like San Juan Puerto Rico, but I am not 100% sure.

The bargain at the heart of our government has always been that privacy matters enormously, but it must yield when, with appropriate evidence and oversight, the government needs to see into private spaces to protect the community. No large part of America has ever been entirely off-limits to judicial authority. President Obama was, by background and instinct, a civil libertarian, but he could see the darkness and the danger in talking about privacy as an absolute value, as he explained publicly in Austin, Texas, in spring 2016: ....

The excerpt is from James Comey's book A Higher Loyalty (Flatiron, 2018). The context is related to encryption of the information that Apple and Google set by default on their devices/ services.


2 Answers 2


You seem to be misreading "part" to mean only "land territory".

Actually "part" in that sentence also means (and likely focuses on) a section of non-physical America in general. That could be American business, economy, science, technology, education, media, etc.

So to paraphrase the sentence and flip it out of a negative form, it basically states:

The U.S. government has always had some amount of authority in all major areas of American society.

This claim is meant to show that the internet and our devices are no different and that complete privacy is not actually possible because it's the government's job to regulate these systems in order to protect its citizens.
(How much regulation is always the debate.)

  • I agree with your answer, though t's possible Comey also includes physical territory in his reasoning. The so-called "Wild West", after all, had its share of sheriffs and marshals and itinerant judges to "keep the peace" and provide "law and order". Even notorious places like Deadwood were more the exception than the norm, and in any case were probably a lot less lawless than the stories make them out to be.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 16:18
  • 1
    @Andrew Good point. I didn't mean to completely exclude physical territory from the equation because it's certainly true there too, though it's probably not what Comey meant to focus on. I'll make some edits, thanks. Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 17:31

The statement is not about the physical territory of the United States. It is about parts of American life. There are "private spaces" which enjoy legal protection. For example, the home is normally "off limits" to the police. They cannot plant a microphone in everyone's kitchen just to make sure no one is planning a crime. But the home is not "absolutely off-limits to judicial authority" since a court can issue a search warrant if there is sufficient evidence that a crime is taking place there.

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