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Mace & Crown | February 21, 2018

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Virginia Judge Rules That Home Computers Don’t Have Privacy

Virginia Judge Rules That Home Computers Don’t Have Privacy
Ross Reelachart
Technology Editor

On June 23, a federal judge for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that any user of a computer in their own home does not have an “objectively reasonable expectation of privacy.” Such a decision implies that law enforcement has free access to any private home computer without consent or warrant.

This ruling follows a 2015 incident, where the FBI seized a hidden website that dealt in child exploitation. The FBI let the site continue to operate, while under their control, in order to track down other users. This action was called into question, as it did not seem to be within the FBI’s power allowed by the original warrant. This latest decision by the judge continues to highlight the misunderstanding that the legal system has in regard to the technical aspects of the current digital world.

Digital rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, responded to the decision. In a post on the EFF website, they called the decision, “dangerously flawed.” The EFF warned that continued misunderstanding of how digital privacy works, and the continued misapplication of traditional legal rules to digital privacy, would allow law enforcement to circumvent the Fourth Amendment in cases of electronic information or devices. In the hopes of better educating the courts and judges about the complex and sensitive matter of digital privacy, the EFF created an amicus brief.

The world of digital privacy continues to grow in scope and complexity, and the courts’ understanding of how it works has been slow to adapt. What has become clear, as digital crimes become more prevalent, is that the legal system will need to quickly learn how respond and rule in a way that doesn’t harm more than it protects.