Computerworld reports on a case — United States v. Verma, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34559 (S.D. Tex. April 8, 2010) — concerning warrantless search of a laptop at the United States-Mexico border in Texas. (There has been considerable controversy over the constitutionality of the warrantless border searches of travelers’ laptops, cameras and mobile devices.):
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas has become the latest federal court to uphold the right of U.S. customs agents to conduct warrantless searches of laptop computers at U.S. borders.
In a ruling last week, the court denied a motion to suppress evidence gathered from a border search that was filed by a man who is accused of possessing, transporting and distributing child pornography.
Sandeep Verma of Sugarland, Texas, was arrested in February 2008 at a Houston airport on his return from a visit to Bogota, Colombia. The charges against him stem from evidence gathered from a search of his computer and external drives at the airport and a subsequent search of other computers and storage devices from his car, which yielded more than 100,000 illegal images.
In his motion to suppress the evidence from the border search, Verma claimed that the search of his computer and external drives at the airport violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Verma contended that the warrantless search of his computer by a cyber specialist from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit amounted to an unreasonable forensic analysis of his computer without a reason. […]
The government maintained that the search stemmed from an ongoing investigation of Verma for child pornography. Well before Verma was searched at the airport, the FBI had already linked his home IP address to an Internet Relay Chat server containing images of child pornography. […]
“The court finds that reviewing the files of a computer does not rise to the level of “invasion of the privacy and dignity of the individual to make the search non-routine,” [U.S. District Court Judge Gary Miller] wrote in a 14-page ruling. “Even had the search of the computer been as exhaustive as Verma claims, the court is not convinced it would be considered non-routine” and needing reasonable cause or particularized suspicion for it to be conducted, he wrote. […]
The court’s ruling was first reported in FourthAmendment.com.