The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has come to the disturbing conclusion that the feds can seize digital devices, such as laptops, at the border and send them to a secondary site for inspection, all without a warrant.
The Ninth Circuit Court ruling came in a case involving a registered sex offender whose laptop was taken away from him when he reentered the country from Mexico into Lukeville, Ariz. Authorities found nothing incriminating on his computer when they first checked it, but decided to send it to Tucson because they couldn’t access many of his files due to password protections. A second search revealed child pornography and the man in question was arrested. Several lower courts agreed with the motion he later filed asking that the evidence be suppressed because it was obtained through a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights during an unreasonable search.
The Ninth Circuit Court agreed with the government’s appeal stating that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that all border searches are reasonable because they occur at the border. The moving of his computer off site was considered to be justified because the tools needed to do an adequate search of the laptop were not available on site.
Judge Richard Tallman made the following statement “The border search doctrine is not so rigid as to require the United States to equip every entry point no matter how desolate or infrequently traveled with inspectors and sophisticated forensics equipment.”