Did you know that Federal Border Agents can search your laptop without cause? Not just laptops, but also cell phones, PDA and digital cameras can all be searched for evidence of crimes when you enter the United States.
Normally, the Fourth Amendment requires “probable cause” in order to search a person or their physical property. At a border crossing, the bar is lowered to merely “reasonable suspicion.” This is referred to as the “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment. However, when it comes to your electronic devices, the bar is virtually non-existent. These special rules governing suspicion-less laptop searches were first announced in 2008 by the Bush Administration and subsequently approved by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case of Arnold vs. USA. A second challenge has recently been brought by the ACLU on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association and Pascal Abidor, a 26 year old U.S. /French citizen and Islamic Studies student. Abidor was traveling to his home in New York via Amtrak when he was taken off the train and questioned. Although he was released several hours later without charge, the Department of Homeland Security kept his laptop for eleven days while it was searched. Clearly, a certain level of leeway is required to fight terrorism and help keep the United States safe. Ultimately, this case will likely test the boundaries of that authority.