Photo of man inside laptop, reaching out. By Cayusa at Flickr, CC licenced.Kristine Lowe links to this Wired story about a case where US border security searched the computer of a US citizen coming from from abroad, and found illegal material on his laptop. The court found that searching the laptop was illegal and refused to hear the case. What’s particularly interesting is the reason the judge gave for treating information on laptops differently from other personal items:

“Electronic storage devices function as an extension of our own memory,” Judge Dean Pregerson wrote. “They are capable of storing our thoughts, ranging from the most whimsical to the most profound. Therefore, government intrusions into the mind — specifically those that would cause fear or apprehension in a reasonable person — are no less deserving of Fourth Amendment scrutiny than intrusions that are physical in nature.”

The government, of course, disagrees, and with a rather Orwellian reason:

“If allowed to stand, the district court’s decision will seriously undermine the nation’s vital interest in protecting its borders by removing the significant deterrent effect of suspicionless searches,” reads the filing.

I wonder whether this kind of issue has been tested in other countries’ jurisdiction?
(Photo by CayUSA)

4 thoughts on “your laptop is legally an extension of your mind?

  1. Michael Clarke

    That intrigued me – a quick search pulled up this 1998 BBC posting about Customs stop and search ofor pornography, including the immortal line “Oh. Our scanner doesn’t work on Apples.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/150465.stm

  2. Jill Walker Rettberg

    That’s both hilarious and thought-provoking, thanks, Michael – I’ve never seen a computer scanned at a border myself but perhaps it’s quite common?

  3. […] Apparently searching the contents of your laptop at airport security may be considered a way to secure America’s borders against all kinds of threats (Wired story found via jill/txt). Or are they? The question, before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arose from the prosecution of Michael Timothy Arnold, an American citizen whose laptop was randomly searched in July 2005 at Los Angeles International Airport as he returned from a three-week trip to the Philippines. Agents booted the computer and began opening folders on the desktop, where they found a picture of two naked women, continued searching, then turned up what the government says is child pornography. […]

  4. […] Via jill/txt, a Wired article about the information on your laptop. A judge ruled that officials cannot search a laptop’s memory without suspicion because it is an extension of the mind: ‚ÄúElectronic storage devices function as an extension of our own memory,‚Äù Judge Dean Pregerson wrote. ‚ÄúThey are capable of storing our thoughts, ranging from the most whimsical to the most profound. Therefore, government intrusions into the mind ‚Äî specifically those that would cause fear or apprehension in a reasonable person ‚Äî are no less deserving of Fourth Amendment scrutiny than intrusions that are physical in nature.‚Äù […]

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