The Washington Times - March 8, 2013, 04:40PM

A federal appeals court on Friday limited the Border Patrol’s ability to search laptops or other electronic records during routine checks at the border, ruling that people have an expectation their data are private and that the government must have a “reasonable suspicion” to snoop.

In a broad ruling, the court also said merely putting password protection on information is not enough to trigger the government’s “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a more intrusive search — but can be taken into account along with other factors.


The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges said it was a “watershed care” that gets at what kinds of limits the government must observe when it comes to technology and privacy.

“While technology may have changed the expectation of privacy to some degree, it has not eviscerated it, and certainly not with respect to the gigabytes of data regularly maintained as private and confidential on digital devices,” Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in the majority opinion.

Privacy advocates cheered the decision, saying that the government had previously contended it had the right to copy all electronic data of anyone crossing into the U.S.

“But in today’s watershed ruling, the court drew a line in the sand and recognized that the vast amount of personal information and sensitive data on laptops, cell phones, and other electronic devices is worthy of Fourth Amendment protection,” said Michael Price, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice.