In many white collar crimes and computer crimes, electronic devices and computers are an important source of evidence for police and the prosecution. This means that search and seizure law plays an important role in the criminal process for these crimes. If at any time, you feel that your rights are being violated by an illegal search, it is always a good idea to contact a criminal lawyer as soon as possible to find out if they can stop the police from violating your constitutional rights.
Warrants for Computers and Electronics
When the police try and take any electronic devices, including parts of a computer, such as the hard drive, they must first show a valid search warrant. If an officer attempts to take a device or part without a warrant, then that evidence might be inadmissable in trial, even if they later gained permission from the courts to obtain that evidence. Computers, electronics and anything else that stores digital information is subject to the same rules of privacy as any other object. It is very rare that the police are able to take evidence from a digital device without first obtaining a warrant.
Crimes involving computer technology are still being developed and so are the laws to prevent them. As a result, the rules are not always clear cut, and the police will make many attempts to justify obtaining digital information without a warrant.
Giving the information to a third party: If a third party has access to the information, then it may not be considered as ‘private’ under the eyes of the law. Generally, if information is passed between two people in a discreet manner, then there can be a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if that information is made public in some way, the police may be justified in seizing the digital device that stores the evidence.
Alias: If the information does not have any connection to the real person, but instead is stored under an alias, the police may be excused from obtaining digital information without a warrant. The reasoning is that the individual’s rights have not been violated because they still remain anonymous.
If the information only has an alias, then it may not be strong enough evidence to incriminate someone of a crime. However, the police can obtain important information that may be under an alias. For example, if the police were investigating a drug crime, they might find the date or time of a meeting involving illegal substances.
Losing control of the digital data: Information that is stored may be lost or given up independent of the police investigation. If this happens, then it is similar to giving the information to the third party. The possessor may not be able to expect privacy under these conditions and it is possible that the police will take the digital data without a warrant.
The information was taken without a warrant, but later obtained legally: Sometimes when information is taken without a warrant, the prosecution will attempt to argue that they would have gotten the information even if they hadn’t taken it as the result of a violation of the defendant’s rights. If a law enforcement agent takes information without a warrant, but is later presented with that information either through someone else or through the defendant themselves, then it is unlikely that the criminal lawyer will be able to suppress the evidence during trial.
The Law and Computers
Search and seizure law is still developing as technology becomes more complex. There are many different ways in which law enforcement could come across digital information. Since there is little precedent for cases involving computer crimes, it is up to the judges and attorneys to interpret search and seizure law and apply it to each situation involving digital information. It is also often unclear how each rule will be applied, such as what kind of privacy can be expected when using an alias, and what constitutes an actual alias.