Content Regulation / Censorship, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention, Defamation / Reputation
Hegglin v. Google
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On Appeal Expands Expression
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A copy of all the information on an individual’s computer, combined with the retention of that material for over two years, amounts to a general search and is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. Further, a general search combined with bad faith on behalf of the government is grounds to invoke the exclusionary rule is the danger of suppression is low and the deterrent value is high.
Defendant Stavros M. Ganias appeals his tax evasion conviction, which was decided in jury trial. Ganias argues that the Army violated the Fourth amendment when they made copies of his computer hard drives, which were then kept for two and a half years. The search was made pursuant to a search warrant.
Based on a tip from a confidential source, the Army learned that Ganias was suspected of tax evasion. After learning of this information, the Army conducted an investigation. Pursuant to this investigation, the Army obtained a search warrant to obtain computer documents. Instead of confiscating the computers, the Army made copies of every file on three of Ganias’ computers, including files and information that were outside the warrant’s scope. Prior to trial, Ganias moved to suppress the computer files in question, but his motion was denied.
Ganias further contends that his right to a fair trial was violated because a juror, who befriended another juror, posted comments about the trial on his Facebook page. The grand jury indicted Ganias in October of 2008. After trial, Ganias moved for a new trial based on the alleged juror misconduct, but the court again denied his motion. Ganias was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
The Court of Appeals found that Ganias’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated. However, it found that his right to a fair trial was not violated. Therefore, the conviction was vacated and the case was remanded.
First, the court examined the issue of juror misconduct. The court found the trial judge’s determination that the juror’s use of social media did not affect juror’s ability to be fair and impartial to be without error. Thus, the court affirmed the decision of the trial judge on this count. However, the court emphasized the importance of recognizing the dangers of juror misconduct with social media, and the court proposed a jury instruction to be given before and after every trial on the communication about the trial on social media.
Second, the Court turned to the more complicated legal issue of whether Gainias’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated. In this case, the court limited their review to the narrow question, “whether the Fourth Amendment permits officials executing a warrant for the seizure of particular data on a computer to seize and indefinitely retain every file on that computer for use in future criminal investigations.” [pg. 137] The court found that this seizure would not be permitted because it would essentially authorize the granting of a general warrant. The seizure and retention of over two years of these documents in this case was outside the scope of reasonableness, which is the standard for general warranty deeds.
Finding that the seizure and retention was unreasonable, the court then turned to the exclusionary rule analysis. The court found that this widespread seizure of all the computer files and the subsequent retention were outside the scope of the warrant, and the government did not act in good faith. Thus, the exclusionary rule is triggered. The court further found that the benefits of deterrence for law enforcement are great in this case, while the costs of suppression are not great. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded on the basis of the Fourth Amendment violations.
In the dissent, Circuit Judge Peter W. Hall agreed with the majority that this seizure was unreasonable but argued that the evidence should not have been suppressed. The dissenter argued that the government did not act in bad faith, as it was acting within the current precedent at the time, and, therefore, the dissent finds no need for deterrence and would not suppress the evidence in this case.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case expands Fourth Amendment rights by prohibiting the government from engaging in general searches and from retaining data beyond a reasonable time period following the search warrant’s execution.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The decision of the Court of Appeals is binding on the courts below it.
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