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Suspicionless Laptop Searches Under the Border Search Doctrine: The Fourth Amendment Exception that Swallows Your Laptop

Ari B. Fontecchio

Yeshiva University - Cardozo Law Review

March 24, 2009

Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 31, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security recently set forth a new policy allowing suspicionless searches of the data inside the laptops of international travelers upon entry into the United States. The government has justified these searches under the border search and special needs doctrines, which render constitutional any "routine" search performed at the international border. The logic behind the special needs doctrine is that the government can operate outside the traditional confines of the Fourth Amendment because there is something "special" about the border. However, where data is concerned, the special needs and border search doctrines do not apply, because data travels electronically via cyberspace, not through the United States' physical borders such as airports and highways. Therefore, the government has no special need to search data at these physical borders separate and apart from searching data in computers already inside the country. In fact, suspicionless data searches compromise border security by allowing officers to engage in time-consuming data searches instead of preventing the entry of weapons that can cause immediate harm. Since such data searches hurt rather than help to achieve border security, the government's interest in performing suspicionless data searches at the border does not outweigh an individual's interest in privacy. On balance, an individual's privacy interests should prevail. Consequently, the Policy allowing suspicionless searches of laptop data violates the Fourth Amendment.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: Criminal Procedure, Fourth Amendment, Special Needs Doctrine, Border Search Doctrine, Computer, Terrorism, Laptop, Data, LaFave, Kerr, Arnold

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Date posted: April 13, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Fontecchio, Ari B., Suspicionless Laptop Searches Under the Border Search Doctrine: The Fourth Amendment Exception that Swallows Your Laptop (March 24, 2009). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 31, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1367717

Contact Information

Ari B. Fontecchio (Contact Author)
Yeshiva University - Cardozo Law Review ( email )
New York, NY
United States
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