What's in a Laptop? Court Ponders Legality of Border Searches

Is your laptop a fancy piece of luggage or an extension of your mind? That's the central question facing a federal appeals court in a case that could sharply limit the government's ability to snoop into laptop computers carried across the border by American citizens. The question, before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, […]

Is your laptop a fancy piece of luggage or an extension of your mind? That's the central question facing a federal appeals court in a case that could sharply limit the government's ability to snoop into laptop computers carried across the border by American citizens.

The question, before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arose from the prosecution of Michael Timothy Arnold, an American citizen whose laptop was randomly searched in July 2005 at Los Angeles International Airport as he returned from a three-week trip to the Philippines. Agents booted the computer and began opening folders on the desktop, where they found a picture of two naked women, continued searching, then turned up what the government says is child pornography.

In June 2006, a judge from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California threw out the evidence, finding that customs officials must have at least "reasonable suspicion" to begin prying into the contents of an electronic storage device, a decision the government is now appealing.

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