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In the Matter of the Search of Information Associated with [redacted] @mac.com that is Stored at Premises Controlled by Apple, Inc.

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    April 7, 2014
  • Outcome
    Access to Information Denied
  • Case Number
    25 F.Supp.3d 1
  • Region & Country
    United States, North America
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags
    Search Warrant

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The fourth amendment, one of the cornerstone rights in the United States, protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In the case of electronic searches, it is impermissible for the government to attempt to seize all the items in an email account when there is only probable cause to seize some of the emails. This case involves the government’s second application for a search warrant to search a specific apple email address for a potential violation of the Solicitation and Receipt of Kickbacks Act (41 U.S.C. §8702) and Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. §371).


Facts

This case involves the government’s second application for a search warrant to search a specific apple email address for a potential violation of the Solicitation and Receipt of Kickbacks Act (41 U.S.C. §8702) and Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. §371). The current warrant applications deviate from the Department of Justice’s manual, “Searching and Seizing Computers and Obtaining Electronic Evidence in Criminal Investigations.” Instead, the search warrant attempts to search an entire email account for information from January 2014 to the present. The warrant further stated that the government could keep any relevant and non-relevant emails under seal until further notice was granted by the Court. The Court, however, noted that blindly relying on the Department of Justice’s manual should be avoided by law enforcement in submitting warrant applications.


Decision Overview

The Court had two main concerns with the first warrant application submitted by the government. First, the warrant attempted to seize all the emails from a certain email account, which essentially amounted to a general warrant giving the police permission to search both evidence for which there was probable cause and evidence for which there was no probable cause. Second, the warrant failed to identify what would be done with evidence obtained not related to the crime in question. The Court noted that the renewed warrant application failed to address the Court’s previous concerns. The renewed application only changed in form, not substantively, and the Court refused to grant such a general, exploratory warrant.

In its reasoning the Court first addressed whether the copying and retention of these emails constituted a “seizure” within the meaning of the fourth amendment. The Court found that this was a seizure because the owner loses exclusive control of the data. Second, the Court recognized the exception to the particularity requirement for a search warrant which allows an unconstitutionally broad seizure if it is the only practical method to obtain the requested information. Therefore, in limited cases the Court will allow the government to obtain a large amount of information to be taken offsite and searched. However, this is subject to the requirement that the government, “provides an adequate search protocol explaining how it will perform the search and ensure that it is only searching sectors or blocks of the drives that are most likely to contain the data for which there is probable cause.” In the instant case, the Court ruled that the government was abusing this exception by simply requesting the search and seizure of an entire email account. Furthermore, the government’s application gave no justification for why this exception might apply.

The Court ruled that the only permissible way to perform this search would be to require Apple to filter through the emails utilizing key words identified by the government, therefore revealing only the emails that had probable cause to be searched. Thus, unless the government came up with another reasonable alternative, the key-word search method would be the only way in which the search could be performed within the constraining the fourth amendment.

Further, the Court ruled that the government’s proposed retention of data obtained outside the scope of the search warrant was unconstitutional. The Court noted, “if the government seizes data it knows is outside the scope of the warrant, it must either destroy the data or return it. It cannot simply keep it.”


Decision Direction

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Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

This case expands expression by upholding the fourth amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures. This opinion prohibits the government from issuing a general warrant which seizes both items for which the government has probable cause as well as for items outside the scope of the warrant.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., In the Matter of the Search of Information Associated with the Facebook Account Identified by the Username Aaron.Alexis Controlled by Facebook Inc., 2013 WL 7856600 (D.D.C. 2013)

    In this case the court required the government to reconsider the information it was seeking to disclose in an individual’s Facebook account, because the warrant application would disclose information for which the government had not established probable cause to search. The court recommended key words or phrases to be identified through which the government could only search information containing those key words.

  • U.S., United States v. Warshak, 631 F.3d 266 (6th Cir. 2010)

    There is a reasonable expectation of privacy in one’s emails (pages 285-88).

  • U.S., Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

    The Court references 41(e)(2)(B), which allows law enforcement to seize a large quantity of data and take it offsite to be searched.

  • U.S., United States v. Tamura, 694 F.2d 591 (9th Cir. 1982)

    Allowing the government to take a large amount of documents offsite to be searched.

  • U.S., Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547 (1978)

    A third party may be searched to identify fruits or instrumentalities of a crime.

  • U.S., In re Applications for Search Warrants, 2012 WL 4383917 (D. Kan. Sept. 21., 2012)

    By permitting the government to search all emails in an email account would be akin to ““a warrant asking the post office to provide copies of all mail ever sent by or delivered to a certain address so that the government can open and read all the mail to find out whether it constitutes fruits, evidence or instrumentality of a crime. The Fourth Amendment would not allow such a warrant.”

General Law Notes

Law: Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(e)(2)(B)
Notes: Allowing law enforcement to seize a large quantity of data and take it offsite to be searched.

Case Name: In the Matter of the Search of
Information Associated with the Facebook Account Identified by the Username Aaron Alexis
That Is Stored at Premises Controlled by Facebook, Inc., 2013 WL 7856600, at *8 (D.D.C. Nov.
26, 2013) (Facciola, M.J.).
Notes: In this case the court required the government to reconsider the information it was seeking to disclose in an individual’s Facebook account, because the warrant application would disclose information for which the government had not established probable cause to search. The court recommended key words or phrases to be identified through which the government could only search information containing those key words.

Case Name: United States v. Warshak, 631 F.3d 266, 285-88 (2010).
Notes: There is a reasonable expectation of privacy in one’s emails.

Case Name: In re Search of Target Email
Address, 2012 WL 4383917, at *9.
Notes: By permitting the government to search all emails in an email account would be akin to ““a warrant asking the post office to provide copies of all mail ever sent by or delivered to a certain address so that the government can open and read all the mail to find out whether it constitutes fruits, evidence or instrumentality of a crime. The Fourth Amendment would not allow such a warrant.”

Case Name: United States v. Tamura, 694 F.2d 591, 595 (9th Cir. 1982).
Notes: Allowing the government to take a large amount of documents offsite to be searched.

Case Name: Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547, 559 (1978).
Notes: A third party may be searched to identify fruits or instrumentalities of a crime.

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

This case establishes binding precedent for all lower courts within the District of Columbia.

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