SW Legal studies in Business

Viewing Content of Laptop at Border Is Not Unreasonable or Offensive Search

Appeals court held that border officials may search laptops and other electronic equipment without a warrant or without reasonable suspicion. So long as searches are not done in an offensive manner, they are a normal part of border control.

Topic Criminal Law
Key Words

Search; Evidence; Reasonable Suspicion; Laptop

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Arnold was going through Customs after an international flight. His luggage was searched and he was asked to turn on his laptop. When the screen came up, some folders were called “pictures.” The Customs inspectors clicked on an icon. Pictures they suspected were child pornography came up. Arnold was taken for more questioning and the laptop searched, where child pornography was found. The laptop was seized; Arnold was later charged with knowingly transporting child pornography. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence because the search was conducted without reasonable suspicion. The trial court held for Arnold that Customs had no reason to search the contents of the laptop, and the evidence was suppressed. The government appealed.


Reversed. An airport is part of the border. To ask a traveler to boot up a laptop is normal procedure; viewing the contents is not unusual. Reasonable suspicion is not required for Customs to search a laptop or other personal electronic devices at the border. Border officials have wide discretion in searches at the border, but they must not be offensive. This one was not offensive, so the evidence seized will not be suppressed.


U.S. v. Arnold, ---F.3d--- (2008 WL 1776525, 9th Cir., 2008)

Back to Criminal Law Listings

©1997-2008  South-Western Legal Studies in Business. All Rights Reserved.