Generally, border search agents are given wide lattitude to conduct searches relative the reasonableness of suspicion1 and, which provides an exception to the warrant requirement.2

Some time ago, I posted a story concerning a border exception to the warrant requirement, where a border agent inspected a laptop and discovered contraband (click here).  From the Ninth Circuit, U.S. v. Arnold, we have a similar underlying fact situation, except that the question before the court concerns the reasonableness of the intrusion:  In its April 21st opinion, the Court held that reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border.  The Court found unavailing defandant’s numerous arguments –some bearing stretch marks– such as that “laptop computers are fundamentally different from traditional closed containers,” and analogizes them to “homes” 2 and the “human mind.”3 Consequently, the Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order, thereby permitting prosecution to proceed.


1 See, generally, United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531 (1985).

2 Under the border search exception, the government may conduct routine searches of persons entering the United States without probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or a warrant.  For Fourth Amendment purposes, an international airport terminal is the “functional equivalent” of a border.

3 Defendant’s analogy of a laptop to a home was based on a conclusion that a laptop’s capacity allows for the storage of personal documents in an amount equivalent to that stored in one’s home.

4 Defendant urged that a laptop is like the “human mind” because of its ability to record ideas, e-mail, internet chats and web-surfing habits.