March 22, 2008
CRS Report - Border Searches of Laptops and Other Electronic Storage Devices
Summary: "The Fourth Amendment generally requires a warrant to support most searches and seizures conducted by the government. Federal courts have long recognized that there are many exceptions to this general presumption, one of which is the border search exception. The border search exception permits government officials, in most "routine" circumstances, to conduct searches with no suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever. On the other hand, in some "non-routine" and particularly invasive situations, customs officials are required to have "reasonable suspicion" in order to conduct a search. Several federal courts have recently applied the border search exception to situations in which customs officials conducted searches of laptops and other electronic storage devices at the border. Though the federal courts have universally held that the border search exception applies to laptop searches conducted at the border, the degree of cause required to support the search has not been established. Though some federal appellate courts do not appear to require any degree of suspicion to justify a search, one federal district court stated categorically that all laptop searches conducted at the border require at least reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing."