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Does your laptop have anything to declare?

April 22, 2008 |  1:44 pm

Now_your_laptop_is_fair_game Now the files and photos on your laptop are fair game to customs agents at LAX and no, unlike the police, they don't need probable cause to search them. That's the latest ruling, handed down yesterday by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The search-and-seizure case got started when a U.S. Customs inspector found child porn on a laptop belonging to O.C. resident Michael Arnold when he passed through LAX in 2005 after a trip to the Phillipines.

Marilyn Bednarski, Arnold's lawyer, says she'll ask for a new hearing, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

A search of a personal computer is more intrusive than an inspection of someone's car or luggage, she said, because people use computers as "an extension of ourselves. It really is like looking into someone's mind, rather than looking into a box or a folder or a purse."

The ruling would authorize airport searches of other electronic devices such as cellphones without evidence of wrongdoing, Bednarski said.

Arnold had been randomly chosen by customs agents for the search. They powered up his laptop, searched the desktop and folders and found the pornography. He now faces charges of possessing and transporting child porn. If convicted, he faces 30 years in federal prison.

More at Law.com, Reuters, Daily Breeze and the WSJ's Law Blog.

--Veronique de Turenne

Photo: Tribune Media Services

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