Border Searches of Laptop Computers and Other Electronic Storage Devices [January 30, 2009] [open pdf - 166KB]
This Congressional Research Service (CRS) report discusses the debate surrounding fourth amendment rights and warrantless searches of laptop computers and other electronic storage devices at U.S. borders. "A developing question in the law of search and seizure is whether the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution permits warrantless searches of the content of laptop computers and other electronic storage devices at U.S. borders. The federal courts that have addressed this issue have universally held that the border search exception to the Fourth Amendment applies to these searches, making warrantless searches permissible. Although most of these courts did not make explicit the degree of suspicion needed to initiate such a search, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was the first to rule that the Fourth Amendment does not require reasonable suspicion to justify a warrantless search of laptops at the border. The Fourth Amendment mandates that a search or seizure conducted by a government agent must be 'reasonable.' As a general rule, courts have construed Fourth Amendment 'reasonableness' as requiring probable cause and a judicially granted warrant. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has recognized several exceptions to this presumptive warrant requirement, one of which is the border search exception."
CRS Report for Congress, RL34404