From Volume 81, Number 1 (November 2007)
In the fall of 2006, United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson handed down United States v. Arnold, which held that U.S. Customs agents violated the Fourth Amendment when they searched a laptop computer belonging to an inbound international traveler at Los Angeles International Airport without any particularized suspicion. The Ninth Circuit recently overturned the district court’s ruling, but the district court’s analytical approach remains of vital interest. That is because the decision was the first in the nation to find that the “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment—which permits law enforcement to conduct suspicionless, routine searches of personal items crossing the international border or its functional equivalent—did not apply to laptop computers. Given its novelty and potential implications for all digital media, it is hardly surprising that the district court’s ruling in Arnold has grabbed the attention of the press, law student commentators, civil liberties lawyers, and, most notably, other judges.