The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that border agents can search a person’s laptop without either probable cause or reasonable suspicion. In a sweeping decision that reversed the trial judge, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain and two other judges found no distinction in a search of luggage and actually reviewing the contents of a computer under the Fourth Amendment. The ruling went against Michael Arnold, who was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport with child pornography.
Judge O’Scannlain wrote “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. . . . [and 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.”
As with an earlier ruling, the Arnold decision suggests a new and major reduction in privacy expectations for Americans. Laptops contained sensitive political and personal information that can now be accessed through such searches.
For a copy of the opinion, click here.