We have written in the past about the freedom of border agents to search laptops at the border crossing points.
A new opinion (PDF) in United States v. Arnold by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dated April 21, 2008, confirms this trend by holding that customs officers may examine electronic contents of a passenger’s laptop without reasonable suspicion.
The Facts. Arnold, a 43-year old arrived at Los Angeles International airport from the Philippines. At Customs, he was asked for secondary inspection, where the officer asked him to turn on his laptop to determine whether it was functioning. Once the computer booted up, the desktop showed folders named "Kodak Pictures" and "Kodak Memories." The agents opened the folders and noticed pictures of nude women. The agents then questioned Arnold about his computer, his trip, and upon review of the images, determined that there are several images which the agents believed were child pornography.
The Opinion. After a district court granted Arnold’s motion to suppress evidence, the Ninth Circuit reversed. The Ninth Circuit based its opinion on Supreme Court precedent which held that the right of the United States to protect its border is paramount; however, such authority is not unlimited. The two major exceptions for border searches without reasonable suspicion are searches which cause "exceptional damage to property" or if the search was conducted in a "particularly offensive manner." The Ninth Circuit held that the record did not support finding on either of the two exceptions and therefore the search was proper.
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