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.