Ninth Circuit Rules that Borders Agents Can Search Computers Without Either Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion

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.

27 thoughts on “Ninth Circuit Rules that Borders Agents Can Search Computers Without Either Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion”

  1. How different is this from the FBI’s genie program and the other spying that they do on our communications daily? It’s ridiculous to think that we have any rights to privacy any more. We are sitting ducks. What’s funny is that the president is supposed to be a “sitting duck” right now, but he just signed Presidential Directive #51, which is only an extension of the John Warner Defense Authorization Act.

  2. Try reposting, mespo.

    My experience has been that having more than one link in the text, causes my post to be moderated – with the yellow strip…

    There may be other reasons it doesn’t get posted. I always look
    – sometimes it’s just because I’ve been online a LONG time, fooling around, typing away 🙂

  3. If you all are wondering about my post immediately above this one, I had a longer post about the recent Virginia v. David Lee Moore case decide by the U.S. Supreme Court which overruled Virginia law on the 4th Amendment. That long comment was “moderated” apparently in response to Vindex’s spam, and never made it to the board. Sorry for the confusion.

  4. Considering ‘you people’ is often recognized as an incendiary device, the etymological equivalent of a Molotov cocktail if you permit; would you mind amplifying your question?

  5. To All:
    Slight correction of the facts, the police searched Moore’s person and found cocaine and money, not just the car, where they presumable found nothing of interest.

  6. To all:

    To all here’s little article on an opinion from the Big Supremes overruling Virginia law and permitting a search as within the US Constitution even though it violates the Virginia law. The case is Commonwealth v. David Lee Moore. Moore was stopped for a traffic violation and instead of the usual summons and release the cops decided to search his vehicle. They found drugs. The Virginia Supremes dismissed the indictment saying that since the “Fourth Amendment does not permit search incident to citation, the arrest search violated the Fourth Amendment.” Unconvinced, the state prosecutors were off to Federal Court appealing the Virginia Courts ruling on the constitutionality of the search. Some much for comity and respect for State’s rights to handle their own criminal laws.

    Scalia wrote the opinion as he is now the Court’s foremost expert on Virginia you know. For example, he knows UVA calls their campus the grounds and not merely the campus. Credentials indeed. The opinion can be found at:

    Read it and weep. Boy we’re going to have a lot of work to do to fix all this, when these guys finally leave town.

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