Civil Rights

Appeals court limits border searches of laptops that contain 'most intimate details of our lives'

In an 8-3 ruling, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has put restrictions on the ability of border agents to search laptop computers.

The majority (PDF) says U.S. border agents must first have grounds to suspect wrongdoing before using technology to unlock passwords and search computers, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The paper reports the decision is a first by an appellate court. Writing for the majority, Judge Margaret McKeown said laptops, iPad and other devices are entitled to Fourth Amendment protection because they “contain the most intimate details of our lives: financial records, confidential business documents, medical records and private emails.”

The ruling, however, didn’t help the defendant in the case, Howard Cotterman. The court upheld his laptop search in 2007, which reportedly revealed numerous child pornography images.

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