EFF Files Amicus Brief on Digital Search Warrants

Monday, June 20, 2011

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU Vermont, urged the Vermont Supreme Court to reject prosecutors' demands to override a judge's instructions and allow a limitless warrant for a computer search.

During the investigation into an alleged identity theft last year, a detective from the Burlington Police Department applied for a wide-ranging search warrant, which included any computers, compact discs, cell phones, or mobile devices in the home, despite noting it was possible that some of the equipment might be owned by people not suspected in a crime.

A judge granted the warrant application after putting reasonable bounds on the search, as well as including basic privacy protections for information and data not connected to the identity theft under investigation.

In response, prosecutors filed a petition for extraordinary relief with the Vermont Supreme Court, asking that the original overbroad warrant be approved. In an amicus brief filed last Friday, EFF argues that the judge was following the law when he limited the search warrant in order to protect basic privacy rights.

"Our personal computers contain a unprecedented amount of highly sensitive personal information -- things like medical histories, financial status, political affiliation, and more," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury.

"If the state of Vermont has its way, all of this data can be collected and retained without any privacy protections. It's completely reasonable for a judge to act to protect privacy in this case."

The amicus brief urges the Vermont Supreme Court to reject the state's petition for extraordinary relief and uphold the limitations placed on the search warrant.

"Judges are charged with upholding constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. That's what the judge in this case did," said Fakhoury.

"There's no reason to block basic privacy protections that don't interfere with law enforcement investigations."

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/vermontsearch/vermontamicus61711.pdf

Source:  https://www.eff.org/press/archives/2011/06/17

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