Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Legal to search a computer for child pornography

The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police may search computer hard drives for child pornography if their owners subscribe to websites selling the images. The panel found that there was a "fair probability" customers of child pornography Web sites receive or download the illegal images, opening the door for police searches.

The opening two paragraphs of the opinion summarise the issue:
  • The term "Lolita" conjures up images ranging from the literary depiction of the adolescent seduced by her stepfather in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel to erotic displays of young girls and child pornography. This case requires us to consider probable cause to search a computer for child pornography in the
    context of an Internet website, known as "Lolitagurls.com," that admittedly displayed child pornography.
    Micah Gourde appeals from the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress more than 100 images of child pornography seized from his home computer. Gourde claims that the affidavit in support of the search lacked sufficient indicia of probable cause because it contained no evidence that Gourde actually downloaded or possessed child pornography. We disagree. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the magistrate judge who issued the warrant made a "practical, common-sense decision" that there was a "fair probability" that child pornography would be found on Gourde’s computer. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983). The Fourth Amendment requires no more.

The full opinion is available here. A news story reporting on the ruling is available here.

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