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Judge Places Limits on Airport Laptop Searches

CNet reports that U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern District of California rejected the Obama administration's argument that no warrant was necessary to look through the laptop of an American returning home from a trip to South Korea.

In January 2009, Andrew Samuel Hanson's laptop was seized after a customs official found a picture of a naked adolescent girl on a beach. Hanson was charged with possession and transportation of child porn but pleaded not guilty. Several more searches were carried out in February and a forensic search was carried out in June of 2009. Mr. Hanson's lawyer argued that because of the amount of time that had elapsed, the June search could not be considered an extended border search. Because this search was carried out without a warrant, Hanson's lawyer argued that his rights had been violated.

Though the Justice Department tried to argue that the search, which took place nearly five months later, was warranted because laptop could not be cleared by customs until it had been thoroughly searched, Judge White said this argument was not persuasive. White ruled that the June search did require a warrant.

Two years ago, DHS introduced rules that said TSA could kidnap any device capable of storing information (including hard drives, flash drives, your cellphone, MP3 player, Kindle, pager, and any books or documents you happen to have lying around) for "a reasonable amount of time." Aside from being allowed to keep your electronics for as long as they wanted, DHS could also share your data with other federal agencies or private entities for language translation, data decryption or "other reasons." Last year an amendment stated that supervisory approval is required if a device is held for more than 15 days.

Read more on CNet.