Thursday, April 26, 2007

Virtual Searches and Consent

Here's an interesting 4th Amendment case for you. The facts: Cops suspect a guy of child porn. They drive to his house, where he lives with his dad. Dad, home alone, answers the door. The cops ask if they can search the home and any computers there, the dad consents. Warrantless searches with consent are valid to the extent of consent. The cops find a computer, take it to the station, and search the hard drive using forensic software. That search turns up child porn.

But there's a catch - the computer had different user accounts, and one account couldn't access the other account's files. So the dad would log in under dad's account, and couldn't see the son's child porn.

So, is the search valid?

It's a 10th Circuit case, US v Andrus, which upheld the search on the dad's apparent authority. That means that the cops could rely on the authority of the dad as it appeared to them - they thought he could authorize it, so the search is valid. The dissent views the porn files as inside a locked container. That is, they are deserving of greater privacy protection and the cops couldn't pick the locks.

1 comment:

warm fuzzy said...

mmm.. If the computer was owned by the dad, then I think the search is valid. Think of it this way:

The cops as dad if they can search the house. He says yes. The cops come upon the room the son uses, and it has a lock on it. Can the cops still search that room? Yes, becuase the room is part of the dad's house, the house the dad consented to have searched.

If you carry that logic to the computer, then I think the search is valid. This might be differnet if the computer belonged to the son (or in the senario above if the son was renting the room from his dad) because in those cases, I would think the son would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.