The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld Chinese national Shuren Qin’s multiple federal convictions for illegally exporting naval technology to a Chinese military university. Qin sought to vacate his convictions because authorities searched his laptop and phone without warrants after Qin arrived at a US airport.
Qin’s appeal challenged his convictions of “conspiracy to commit export violations, visa fraud, making false statements to federal agents, money laundering, and smuggling,” for which he was sentenced to two years in prison.
In 2017 Qin and his wife were stopped by two US Customs and Border Protection agents, on the alleged basis that other agencies had been investigating Qin for his export activities. An interview was conducted in the baggage claim section of the airport, where the agents asked him questions about the nature of his business, LinkOcean Technologies Ltd, and his exporting activity.
Qin was exporting anti-submarine warfare equipment to China’s military-affiliated Northwestern Polytechnical University. He was doing so in violation of US regulations which required him to be licensed for the exports.
After Qin states that his laptop and phone were used for business, the agents seized them and sent them to the “Homeland Security Investigations forensic lab to be imaged and searched.” There was no warrant for these searches of Qin’s laptop and phone. In 2018, Qin was arrested.
The First Circuit stated the non-routine search did not violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court said that “the agents conducting the search of Qin’s devices had reasonable suspicion that Qin was exporting controlled marine instruments to China without proper licensure, in violation of U.S. export laws.” Thus, the agents had probable cause to search Qin’s devices without a warrant.
The court upheld the judgment of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.