Updates to Digital Search Warrants: Efficient or Unlawful?

Digital search warrants have attracted a lot of attention in the news as big companies including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter have continually fought to keep users’ data from being viewed by law enforcement agencies.  These warrants allow your “digital property” to be searched by law enforcement agencies, causing complications, as “digital property” is not as tangible as your physical property, and it can be searched easily without your knowledge.

At the Law Office of Andres R. Guevara, we are dedicated to keeping you informed about important legal developments that affect your life, and we believe it’s important to look at how the growing usage of digital search warrants affects your life.

A New York appeals court has stated that Facebook cannot challenge search warrants on its users’ behalf, and threw out Facebook’s claim that these warrants violated the Fourth Amendment rights of its users.  These warrants were used to issue indictments for disability fraud for public employees through photos that showed employees who claimed disability participating in activities such as martial arts events, riding jet skis, and playing golf according to CFO.  Many tech giants, including the likes of Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn all filed legal briefs in support of Facebook arguing the troubling precedent set by giving prosecutors access to this information.

Even more concerning are the proposed updates to Rule 41.  The Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules voted in early March to allow judges more freedom to examine computers, including ones located outside of their districts.  In addition, the FBI would no longer have to give advance notice of their searches, according to the International Business Times.  Richard Salgado, Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google, submitted concerns that “the serious and complex constitutional concerns implicated by the proposed amendment are numerous and, because of the nature of the Fourth Amendment case law development, are unlikely to be addressed by courts in a timely fashion.”

The updates to Rule 41 will go into effect unless legislation is passed to “reject, modify, or defer the rules” according to the Washington Times.   Whether or not these rules go into effect, here are three tips you can make sure you follow in order to minimize your risk of falling victim to a digital search warrant:

Be mindful of what you post on social media

Probably the most obvious, but also most important behavior you can practice is being careful of what you post on your social networking profiles.  The best thing you can do is not post anything online at all, but if you must post, a question to ask yourself is  “Would I want my employer, law enforcement, or other authority figure seeing this?” If your answer is no, you might want to think twice about posting.

Avoid sharing sensitive details online

Since NSA’s surveillance program has become a public focus, it has become apparent that most communications can be intercepted online.  Avoiding sharing details through online communication that you wouldn’t want intercepted or seen by others is probably the best practice to follow in regards to online communication.

Invest in extra security measures if you want more privacy

There are numerous tools out there that can provide more online security for you if the above two rules don’t seem to help enough, including VPNs.  VPNs, or virtual private networks, can allow you access to browse the web with an extra layer of security and anonymity, and can protect you from blanketed search warrants across certain IPs.  However, this extra layer of security might not help if federal investigators believe there is probable cause to conduct more intensive searches.

What are your opinions on the upcoming rule changes?  Are there any other tips you would like to share that can help you maintain your privacy online?  If you have been involved in a digital search warrant, please contact the criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Andres R. Guevara today.