SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The 9th Circuit held that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers at Los Angeles International Airport do not need reasonable suspicion to search the contents of travelers’ laptops for evidence of crimes.
The ruling reinforces the border-search doctrine, which allows border agents to search the belongings of cross-border travelers without reasonable suspicion.
International passenger Michael Arnold, 43, challenged this doctrine after border agents found incriminating evidence on his laptop at LAX following his three-week trip to the Philippines. Agents booted up his computer and found pictures of alleged child pornography.
A grand jury charged Arnold with knowingly transporting child pornography, knowingly possessing at least one image of child porn on a computer and compact discs, and intentionally trying to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor in a foreign country.
Arnold successfully moved to have the electronic evidence suppressed, arguing that agents lacked reasonable suspicion to search his laptop. He claimed that “laptop computers are fundamentally different from traditional closed containers,” and are more like “homes” and the “human mind.”
The appellate court rejected the federal judge’s finding that border agents had overstepped their authority in searching the laptop. Though agents need reasonable suspicion for some searches, such as body-cavity searches, the court concluded that a laptop search is logically no different than border searches of travelers’ luggage.