Constitutional Law

9th Circuit Upholds Border Agent's Laptop Search

A federal appeals court panel ruled Monday that border agents didn’t violate a traveler’s rights when they searched his laptop, finding child porn in the process.

“We are satisfied that reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote (PDF) for the unanimous panel.

The California Recorder, reporting on the opinion, notes that O’Scannlain further opined that the defendant “has failed to distinguish how the search of his laptop and its electronic contents is logically any different from the suspicionless border searches of travelers’ luggage that the Supreme Court and we have allowed.”

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit joins the the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit, which upheld a border agent search of a computer in 2005.

“The government needs to have the ability,” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien said, “to restrict harmful material from entering the country, whether that be weapons used by terrorists, dangerous narcotics or child pornography.”

Marilyn Bednarski, the lawyer for laptop owner Michael Arnold, plans to seek en banc review of the case.

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