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Obtaining Admissible Evidence From Computers and Internet Service Providers

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 72 Issue: 7 Dated: July 2003 Pages: 11-15
Stephen W. Cogar J.D.
Date Published
July 2003
5 pages
This article discusses legal issues that pertain to law enforcement officers' authority to search and seize business and home computer files.
Whether or not a search warrant is required to search and seize computer evidence related to a crime depends on the subject's reasonable expectation that the computer files are private. When the computer is the property of a business and is used by an employee who has been informed that all computer content is subject to examination by the business, then the business owner can give consent to a warrantless search in the investigation of an employee who may have used the computer to commit a crime. If a computer is in a home, then a warrantless search of computer files cannot be conducted without the consent of a party who has use of the computer. Without consent, an officer cannot search or seize home computer files unless probable cause exists to show that the computer contains files that constitute evidence of crime, was used in furtherance of or actually in committing a crime, or is subject to forfeiture. Multiple courts have held that "general searches for unspecified property are generally void. The affidavit should specifically state what is being sought and why it is believed to be on the premises. This applies to persons and property to be seized." This article also discusses the information that may lawfully be obtained about a subject from an Internet service provider (ISP). This can include such items as account information, telephone numbers dialed, and Internet sites visited. 23 notes