A federal appeals court has placed restrictions on officers' authority to search laptop computers at U.S. border inspections.
The 8-3 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco was the first of its kind by an appellate court. Border agents generally can search incoming travelers and most types of property without any evidence of wrongdoing, said the San Francisco Chronicle.
Laptops, iPads and similar devices "contain the most intimate details of our lives: financial records, confidential business documents, medical records and private e-mails," said Judge Margaret McKeown in the majority opinion. She said they are entitled to protection under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches of people, their homes and their "papers and effects."
Dissenting Judge Consuelo Callahan said the ruling, if it stands, means that "people and things we wish to keep out of our country will get in."
In the case, the defendant, Howard Cotterman oand his wife were returning from a trip to Mexico in April 2007 when agents at a border crossing in Arizona spotted his name on a nationwide database of sex offenders. They searched the car and found two laptops, and examined their contents with a program that unlocked their passwords.