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EFF Weighs in on Computer Privacy Case 564

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the what-will-they-think-of-next dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A case on appeal to the Washington State Court of Appeals, State v. Westbrook, recently drew the attention of the EFF. They argue that: "citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their computers, and that their Fourth Amendment rights don't disappear when a computer is delivered to a technician for servicing." This ruling could threaten to 'turn your friendly neighborhood computer repair technician into a government informer' "
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EFF Weighs in on Computer Privacy Case

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  • "Customers who drop off their computers for servicing reasonably expect that their private data won't be handed over to the police without a warrant," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.

    This is completely agree with. Law enforcement should always have to get a warrant to search a computer unless we're talking about something like blatant kiddie porn as the desktop's background (and no, a picture of your child taking a bath doesn't qualify).

    I have a feeling that the Gateway technician shouldn't have been p
    • by Kevin DeGraaf (220791) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:21PM (#13341184) Homepage
      I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store)

      Well, now we know who works as a department store security guard...
    • by kevin_conaway (585204) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:22PM (#13341191) Homepage
      My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism.

      Do you have a daughter or a wife? Would you like a bunch of random teenage employees at the local Gap watching her everytime she tried on a piece of clothing?
      • Do you have a daughter or a wife? Would you like a bunch of random teenage employees at the local Gap watching her everytime she tried on a piece of clothing?

        I will be married in less than a month. I would expect that their theft prevention team would be staffed by the appropriate sex as to observe that -- and most places that do have cameras note that on a large sign that you can read before you go in.

        Remember, any place you shop (including ones w/cameras) is *your* choice. I choose not to give business
        • and most places that do have cameras note that on a large sign that you can read before you go in.

          Hang on, are you saying that there exist stores with cameras in the dressing rooms? And some of them don't even have notice of this?

          • Hang on, are you saying that there exist stores with cameras in the dressing rooms?

            Yes. Welcome to 2005.

            And some of them don't even have notice of this?

            I couldn't possibly speak for all stores that have cameras in their dressing areas so I said "most places".
        • "Reasonable expectation of privacy" is the legal standard used in privacy related lawsuits. If a store has no signs or other indications that cameras are being used in a dressing room that has a locking door, the customer has a reasonable expectation of privacy and would be entitled to sue if a hidden camera were discovered. If however, the dressing rooms were not private or a sign were posted making it obvious there was a camera, then there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and a court would not awar
      • Umm- this could save the gap a lot of money- Instead of paying security guards, I know a ton of people who would pay to be security guards. Especially at one of those Gaps by a college campus...
        "Work at the gap, see a gap!!!"
      • The first clothing shop to put cameras in the dressing rooms would never survive the sudden, massive drop in sales and PR disaster. It's not going to happen so you don't really need to worry about it.
        • by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:49PM (#13341467) Homepage

          Uhm, they DO have security guards observing you in the dressing rooms.

          That's what they claimed in the Winona Ryder shoplifting case. A guard claimed to have seen Noni cutting off security tags from the clothing in the dressing room by peering through observation slats in the dressing room wall.

          By the way, I consider the Ryder case to be a blatant incident of railroading, and most of the testimony against her was clearly prosecutor-coached perjury of the most obvious kind. Her lawyer, Garregos, is a spin doctor, not a trial lawyer, and his defense was pathetic.

          She was charged for two reasons only:
          1) the LA DA was elected on the basis that his predecessor was too soft on celebrities (Robert Downey, et al);

          2) he is the son of an FBI agent and Ryder has publicly worn a "Free Pelletier" button to movie industry events (Leonard Pelletier is in Leavenworth for allegedly shooting two FBI agents twenty years ago - I met him when I was there - just about everybody in the world other than the FBI considers him a railroaded political prisoner.)
      • The way it usually works is that you make sure there is no way to get to or from the dressing room to a door without crossing through the coverage of cameras, but there would be no actual camera coverage of the room. If you walk out of the dressing room with less items than you walked in with, they know something is up (at the least, there are items to be reshelved laying around back there). without having to watch you in the dressing room.

        I actually kind of like the solution a lot of clothing stores in our
      • Do you have a daughter or a wife? Would you like a bunch of random teenage employees at the local Gap watching her everytime she tried on a piece of clothing?

        I have a wife, and I don't worry about this. I figure one of three things will happen:
        1. the watcher will think my wife is beautiful, in which case someone had a good day. My wife hasn't lost anything.
        2. the watcher will think my wife is ugly, in which case he/she will simply look away. My wife still hasn't lost anything.
        3. the watcher will be ambivalent and
        • Well put. I have the same view of RF scans in airports. They're even one step removed as you're not seeing skin through the visible spectrum; rather something akin to night vision. Bodies aren't particularly private just because we call them "private parts," and Puritanical moral standards shouldn't be confused with real privacy issues, i.e. political beliefs, what you read, what you purchase, what you say in the privacy of your home, where you go, etc. The shape of our physical shells is probably the l
    • by Alex P Keaton in da (882660) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:23PM (#13341202) Homepage
      C'mon, who expects their stuff to be private when they allow another to look at their box. If you take your car in to be serviced, and the service has nothing to do with opening the truck, but the auto tech opens the trunk and finds 20 Keys of Coke, you are getting busted.
      If you take a book in to be rebound, and you have terrorist plans written in the margins, you are going to get reported.
      It seems that computers are finally entering more common law... This isn't new territory or a new rule, just a new rule as it applies to computers.
      It would be interesting to hear someone try and define "in plain view" as far as the folder structure of a machine goes.
      In all honesty- every time I use someone else's box, I search for images. Doesn't everyone? I won't lie, I am hoping that they have some homemade porn on there of their wifey.
      • In each of these cases, the police would have to go through the steps of getting a warrant before doing any further searches, which they most certainly would do.

        It isn't the technician-turned-informant that many of us have an issue with. It si the fact that the Police didn't feel that they needed to go through the steps of actually obtaining a search warrant. Here in the US, these processes are supposed to have judicial oversight, though the trend these days is for the Congress and the Executive to ignore these requirements. THe courts are trying to reign it in (we will see how long before portions of the USAPATRIOT act are struck down in multiple circuits.

        No, IANAL.
      • As a former best buy tech, yes. That's not the point though. I've actually reported customers for child porn because they asked me to do a data backup. As I was queueing the files for DVD burn, I saw a lot of... interesting file names go acrosss. I showed my boss, he showed the manager, we called the cops.

        I don't know the circumstances of this case the EFF is barking about, but if the technician runs across something by doing common tasks, then for God's sake, they should report them.
      • In all honesty- every time I use someone else's box, I search for images. Doesn't everyone? I won't lie, I am hoping that they have some homemade porn on there of their wifey.

        While I don't have a wife (what do you expect on /. ?) and therefore don't have hawt wife pr0n, this kind of attitude is exactly why no one uses my boxes, even for one minute, without a new account being created for them. I've learned that people love to read private email and dig through document folders.

        And if it goes in for serv

        • I know it's wrong, I am just being honest. Of course I feel dirty searching for images on someone else's machine- but I can't help it. The truth is, there is nothing like seeing the soft supple, nude body of a woman you know. It is better than playboy. You know what you are going to see in Playboy- airbrushed perfection. But it is always a surprise, a festival for the eyes, to see a lady that you know well, yet always see clothed, in the buff. An ass taut like a snare drum, but still soft to the touch. Brea
      • The core issue here is the presence of a search warrant. IANAL, but my understanding is that if you have 20 kilos in the trunk of your car, and a service technician spots them, that falls under the "probable cause" clause under which the cops can search your car. If your plumber calls the cops and says, "I think my client has a meth lab in his basement," the cops would have to provide a judge with enough evidence to obtain a warrant to search your house.

        The question here is: which category is your comput
      • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:45PM (#13341421) Homepage
        Very insightful comment. But also very scary.
        In all honesty- every time I use someone else's box, I search for images. Doesn't everyone? I won't lie, I am hoping that they have some homemade porn on there of their wifey.
        I hope you were kidding. I do computer repair, and I take certain steps to make sure I never accidentally open the "My Documents" or "My Pictures" folders unless I need to. If I hired you to fix a customer's computer and I discovered you did that, I would fire you.

        The really really scary part of this is where you say "Doesn't everyone?" as though you think this was the norm! Are you not even aware that what you are doing is unethical? It also happens to be bad for business, so you should be careful that no one finds out. I just now noticed the irony that you started that statement with "In all honesty-".

        • You've got a good point there, but it doesn't change the fact that as a computer repair technician you aren't working as a government agent so your "search" isn't going to be protected/restricted under the 4th Amendment.

          Imagine if I broke into your home and found pot plants growing. While I was even in the commission of a crime, not being a police officer that search is legal and admissible in court.

          Sorry.

          I've told many people to not take their PC's in for repair because of porn (which in any form can be pa
      • I do. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RatBastard (949) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @03:11PM (#13341650) Homepage
        It's none of the tech's business what files are on my computer. Unless I specifically say "Hey, I can't open BackDoorSluts9.avi" the tech has no business looking at that, or any other file. Their job is to fix the computer, not to root through my things looking for porn for their private collections.

        What the hell happened to professionalism? I used to do computer repair and I NEVER snooped on peoples machines. I addressed the problem as laid out in the service ticket and left the rest alone.

        "But kiddie porn is sick!" some of you will whine. Yes. Yes it is. But your job is not to search for criminal activity. Your job is to fix the computer. Stick to your job. Let the police trace the perverts download patterns on the Net.

        Would you search his hard drive for illegal music downloads and call the cops because he has that unreleased Fatboy Slim Cd on it?

        And to the parent, you need to grow the hell up and learn about property rights. Someone else's computer is not yours. You don't trespass on their data.
        • Re:I do. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ad0gg (594412)
          Its like going to a doctor for a physical and having him perform some routine tests, but doctor decides to drug test you without your consent and report the findings to the police.
    • by TiggertheMad (556308) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:25PM (#13341223) Homepage Journal
      I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store).

      When the goverment is granted survelance powers over a population, it inevitabily abuses them. Why would you expect a private company to behave any differently?

      More to the point, how is it any different if you are spied upon on private property as oppoesd to public property? You are still being spied on.
      • In the future please read and comprehend what I say:

        My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism.

        I cannot possibly control what a private company does with their property (i.e. add cameras for theft prevention). I can choose not to be a patron.

        I *can*, however, use my weight as a citizen to push for no cameras in the public space as I have just as much right as anyone else.
        • I cannot possibly control what a private company does with their property...

          BZZZT! Thankyouforplaying, but you lose!

          If you don't like the fact you are being spied upon on private property, you *can* use your weight as a citizen to push for laws against survelance in private space. Because you accept that as the status quo, it will reamin that way.

          In the future please try to be less stupid.
          • If you don't like the fact you are being spied upon on private property, you *can* use your weight as a citizen to push for laws against survelance in private space. Because you accept that as the status quo, it will reamin that way.

            Excuse me? I'm stupid? For standing up for what I believe in? I don't believe that I have a right to infringe on the rights of others to do as they fucking please with their OWN property.

            It's really sad when someone thinks that *more* legislation is a good thing.

            What you nee
    • This I disagree with. While I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store). My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism. I do however have an equal weight with regards to my feelings about public spaces being spied upon.

      That's ridiculous! Privacy is (or, at least, should be) a fundamental right. Saying it's okay for people to s


      • I think we have to do some distinguishing here.

        If you're in MY home, I have a total right to spy on you all I want, because that's an issue with MY security and MY personal property. There is no "right to privacy" in someone's personal space. You can, and certainly should if you want any friends, ALLOW a degree of privacy, but there is no "right" invokable here. The only thing you should expect in someone's personal space is freedom from physical coercion.

        If I PERSONALLY own a store, I believe that same sit
    • While I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store). My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism. I do however have an equal weight with regards to my feelings about public spaces being spied upon.

      Oh come on. When you're outside, PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU. Imagine that. You have NO expectation of privacy outside of your property. Pub
  • by joelparker (586428) <joel@school.net> on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:23PM (#13341201) Homepage
    ...before you hand over your computer and login to a complete stranger?
    • Let us suppose you are savy enough to know about encryption and to find the right software. Suppose your computer breaks (e.g. won't boot up). How are you planning to encrypt the files now? (You are not paranoid enough to encrypt the files during normal use, nor do you want to open up the box - you aren't a PC hardware guy).
  • by saskboy (600063) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:23PM (#13341203) Homepage Journal
    "This ruling could threaten to 'turn your friendly neighborhood computer repair technician into a government informer' "

    Does the saying, "discretion is the better part of valour" meant anything to anyone these days? If I saw something extremely dangerous on a computer I'm fixing I'd probably say something weather or not there was a law forbidding me to. Likewise, if there's something technically illegal, but not likely to threaten the safety of anyone, I'm not going to go to any lengths to be a snitch. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, and all that.
  • by KLFrosty (846763) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:24PM (#13341209)
    Shut off the computer, and pretend he never saw the child pornography? He wasn't reading the defendant's diary looking for thought-crimes, folks.
    • It's not what the technician should have done, but what the police should have done. They should have obtained a warrant to continue searching the computer. This is simply a matter of incorrect police procedures. Somebody guilty of a crime can walk away free from court on these sorts of technicalities.
  • Be smart (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hoggerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:25PM (#13341218) Journal
    Use at least TWO disk drives on your systems, one for data, the other for the system and software.

    Configure temp directories and cache directories to use the second drive.

    Better: at least, mount the second drive in a caddy which is removed whenever the system is shipped-out for servicing.

    Better yet, remove the caddy and put it in a "safe" place whenever the computer is not being used, so in case of theft, you don't lose the data.

    Lastly, if the system is shipped because it won't boot windoze, boot-up with Knoppix and delete all possible temporary files or cache directories.

    Hmmmm, this could be something to do: kitbashing a boot Linux distribution that would ferret-out all cache and temporary directories and nuke them.

  • by Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:27PM (#13341242)
    is some tech seeing pictures of my baby daughter in the bathtub and then calling the cops because of my "kiddie porn." Then having to spend the thousands of $$$ on an attourney to get myself out of custody and to prove my innocence. Because when it comes to: terrorism, drugs, taxes, and kiddie porn, you are guilty until proven innocent, maybe not legally, but that's how the system works around these crimes.
    • Because when it comes to: terrorism, drugs, taxes, and kiddie porn, you are guilty until proven innocent, maybe not legally, but that's how the system works around these crimes.

      Kiddie porn/child molestation is a modern witch hunt. One accusation, even if it's completely baseless, will label you for the rest of your life.

  • Obviously the police should need a warrant in order to search information on your computer. However, I don't think there needs to be any laws preventing computer technicians from informing the government of illegal files. How is this any different from any person reporting anything else they see to the government? Only have your computer fixed by a company with a legally binding privacy policy or else encrypt your files, I really don't see what the big deal is.
    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:45PM (#13341410)
      Is it ok for the tech to report files that are on your desktop in a folder call "Illegal stuff in here"? Ok, how about if the files are hidden in a folder, in an area that in no way relates to the service they are doing? How about if they are in an encrypted volume, the password which he gets by cracking it stored by another program withweak, reversable encryption?

      Etc.

      The fact of the matter is, people doing service work should be going through your shit. When I hire someone to perform matenence on my house, I am not giving them permission to come in my bedroom and start going through my personal belongings. They are allowed in my house only to fix whatever it is that is broken.

      That's the problem is that it seems that the techs finding this is evidence that they were poking around and looking for stuff, which they shouldn't be doing. There is nothing ending in .jpg that has any relivance to fixing a broken system.

      A real worry is that if this is decided to be ok, the police will start putting pressure on techs to go through people's files looking for things they might want to know about. They get a quiet little agreement going with Best Buy and CompUSA that if a computer is brought in for service they'll scan the drives for child porn, warez, any documents that might indicate disagreement with the government, etc.

      People tend to get all knee-jerk because the test case is a child porn case and there's a real "kill them all" mentality but you have to think in more general terms. Any time you hear "Don't worry, we won't abuse this law" you know you are being told a lie. The DMCA is a wonderful example. We were told it wouldn't ever be used to suppress academic research and it already has been.

      So sure, maybe you think it's great that every computer that comes in for service should be scanned for child porn but then where does it end? I mean with all the terrorist paranoia these days I'm sure they'd want to scan it for "subversive literature" as well. The media insudtry would be right on board wanting scans for MP3s and MPEGs, and probably just assume they were illegal rips and make you prove your innocence.

      It is a path we do not want to walk down.
  • by waynegoode (758645) * on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:28PM (#13341251) Homepage
    The article left out a very important fact. From the brief:

    While the computer was being serviced, the service technician viewed some of the files on the computer and discovered that some of the files contained child pornography.

    EFF appears to be ashamed of this "detail" because they left it out of the report on their website.

    How do you balance the right of someone to have his child pornography kept private against the right of children not to be victimized by child pornography? What would your opinion be if it was pictures of your child or if you lived near the defendant?

    • by utopianfiat (774016) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:36PM (#13341327) Journal
      Where did he find the child pornography? In a spam email sent to the defendant that was sitting in his trashcan? In his temporary files directory? In his kazaa shared folder which he doesn't even know he has because his 17-year-old son is a porno addict? In his pictures directory containing pictures of his daughter in the bathtub?
      There are so many scenarios to consider here that you can't just cry "pedophile" when you find something like that on someone's hard drive. I mean, I hate letting pedos walk free just as much as every other concerned citizen, but not at the expense of my privacy, and possibly my clean legal status if we're going to witch hunt about it.
      It's no secret that even an accusation of a sexual crime can possibly ruin someone for life, and it's definitely not to be taken lightly. This is where we need to strictly interpret one's right to privacy and use common sense before "exposing pedophiles".
    • It doesn't matter whether they were child porn, beastiality porn or plans to bomb the Whitehouse. The EFF article states that the techie believe that the files may have been illegal and that's what matters.
      Besides, the point is that the police didn't get a warrant before searching the PC. If they had wanted to search his house they would have required a warrant and the principle is the same.
    • So I'm confused about your position. There is no way to know if child porn is present unless they poke around where they shouldn't (ie. searching). So you are for warrantless searching on the off chance child porn is present? Does this extend to the home as well or just computers?

      Finkployd
    • Why do people always use the "What if it was your whatever?" argument. It's as if they think we are all incapable of empathy until reminded.

      "Whoah! You know, I never thought about it that way! I was perfectly okay with child porn until I thought , 'hey what if it was MY child?'"

      Anyways, I agree with you about this. Technicians shouldn't be required by law to cover up for people DUMB ENOUGH to leave files on their computer when it's being repaired. I have been a tech working both corporate support and custom
    • by Kaa (21510) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:47PM (#13341451) Homepage
      How do you balance the right of someone to have his child pornography kept private against the right of children not to be victimized by child pornography? What would your opinion be if it was pictures of your child or if you lived near the defendant?

      I am sorry, does the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution say something about child pornography? Like that it does not apply in case of?

      You seem to want to make the Consitutional rights of people be conditional on the kind of crimes they are accused of committing. Are you sure you'll want to live in such a society?

      • by alan_dershowitz (586542) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @03:26PM (#13341776)
        It's a piece of property, and I'm not aware of any rulings that have declared a PC to be an extension of one's person like a home or car. It would be different if the police had no probable cause and were just searching people's machines, but the technician found the stuff on the machine incidentally, and notified the authorities. Should such a ruling come, I would welcome it. I wouldn't have thought that aquiring such a warrant would even have been that hard. They could have siezed the computer anyway and just not searched it until they aquired the warrant.

        You seem to want to make the Consitutional rights of people be conditional on the kind of crimes they are accused of committing. Are you sure you'll want to live in such a society?

        Welcome to the modern United States of America, we already do this. Check out DUIBlog's ""The DUI Exception to the Constitution"" [duiblog.com] For examples for just one type of crime. You might also check out examples relating to criminal tax fraud and drug crimes for more cases where the consitution is outright ignored. Don't forget about child protective services, which can hide the identity of your accuser in a court of law, and convict you on their testimony, which is clearly and aggriegiously a violation of one of the most important rights this country was founded over.

      • I am sorry, does the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution say something about child pornography?

        The First Amendment to the Constitution does not say anything about child pornography either, but court ruling show that it is not covered by "Freedom of Speech". The precedents show that where the constitution is not explicit, there is more to be considered than the words of the Constitution. Supreme Court ruling often refer to balancing the rights of one group vs. the other.

        I did not say the EFF was right

    • by Vip (11172) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:51PM (#13341483)
      "EFF appears to be ashamed of this "detail" [child pornography found] because they left it out of the report on their website."

      The title is very much misleading. The EFF is *not* defending child porn. FTFA, quote,
      "Customers who drop off their computers for servicing reasonably expect that their private data won't be handed over to the police without a warrant."

      The EFF is defending the right of the person to not have his hard disk go through an unauthorized search.

    • EFF appears to be ashamed of this "detail" because they left it out of the report on their website.

      How does it alter the case? Our rights don't mean anything if you waive them for child porn. How about we get rid of innocent until proven guilty for child porn cases too?

  • Get over it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Seumas (6865) * on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:29PM (#13341263)
    Whatever your "expectation" may be, you have a right to jack shit. That's just life these days. Any pretense of privacy, presumption of innocence, independence and so forth is misplaced outside of a historical context.

    All of these people jumping on the bandwagon are a little late. Whitebreads who are suddenly shocked into the situation because their precious little princess can't get on the airplane because the two year old is on a terror no-fly list or perverts who are shocked when someone turns them in for something on their computer or soccer moms who are upset when the cable guy reports to the TIA that there is "something weird about that person" are like firemen showing up to a pile of smoldering ashes.

    Face it - people see the EFF, ACLU, NCAA and other organizations that have anything to do with free speech, privacy or freedom as "communist hippies" at best and "terrorists/sympathizers" at worst. Am I the only one who hasn't missed all the polls and commentaries from joe-random on the street who clearly states that the necessary cost of safety is freedom and that we have to be willing to give some of our freedom up in the modern world of "terror"?

    We already lost. Your rights couldn't be any more flatlined.
    • see the EFF, ACLU, NCAA and other organizations [...] as "communist hippies" at best and "terrorists/sympathizers" at worst

      While college basketball is pointless and boring, I don't think I've ever heard anyone refer to the NCAA as a terrorist group before...

  • I think most people would agree that we have a reasonable expectation of privacy when a system is brought to a technician for repair. That does not mean that the technician is legally required to respect that. In fact, the technician may be legally required to report certain things, like kiddie-porn.

    Obviously a technician should not browse around your computer, and a good tech won't do that. But at the same time, it's not a good idea to leave files around that could get you in trouble.

    Look, let's take a
  • Hmmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bimo_Dude (178966) <bimoslash.theness@org> on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:32PM (#13341289) Homepage Journal
    This is probably going to be a close call. If a cop pulls you over for speeding and sees your stash in the back seat, then he has every right to search the rest of your vehicle and arrest you (according to the law, anyway).

    However, the person who found these purportedly objectionable files was NOT a cop. It was not his responsibility to call the police, nor was it Gateway's. Also, the fact that the police officers searched his entire hard disk based on heresay likely will be a big issue too. The files in question were clearly not in plain view of the police, and likely not even in the plain view of the technician (although that's moot anyway). I wonder if the technician was just looking for some good pr0n or maybe warez that he could copy.

    This is yet another reason why I prefer to build and support my own systems... fewer prying eyes.

  • by r1_97 (462992)
    "This ruling could threaten to 'turn your friendly neighborhood computer repair technician into a government informer' "

    Back in the days when photographs had to be sent to a shop for developing and printing there was a push to require the shops to report illegal photos (porn, evidence of a crime etc.) The administration of these laws boggs down because everyone has a different opinion as to what to report.
  • Fight for it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ajiva (156759) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:33PM (#13341299)
    The only way to stop this decrease in privacy is to fight for it. If we ignore this, there will be even more issues and privacy violations.
  • I think this is one of those subtle cases that baffles.

    In handing the computer over to the technician, the owner left himself open to the fact that the technician was likely to examine the contents, and he might be expected to inform the police on finding illegal material. There's no confidentiality expectation.

    The police then had a right to investigate, but should have obtained a warrant to examine the computer. It does not cease being private property because it's in the care of a 3rd party.

    By the

  • OK my turn. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrCopilot (871878)
    I spent some time as a PC tech, both corp and retail.

    The EFF argues the police need a warrant. This repair tech gave them all they need for a warrant. Did they get one? No. Throw it out. Doesn't matter what the files were. (PATRIOT not withstanding). Due process is the LAW. (IANAL) But the trial judges threw it out & that's good enough for me. Sloppy police work sends crimnals home everyday, this is just another one.

    As for expectaion of privacy, hmm. If I give you a folder full of sensitive document

  • by EzInKy (115248) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:41PM (#13341369)

    When Westbrook dropped off his personal computer at a Gateway Computer store for servicing, a technician saw private files on the computer that he thought might be illegal. Gateway called the police, who searched through personal files on Westbrook's hard drive looking for more evidence -- before ever getting a warrant. The trial court found, and EFF argues in its brief to the appeals court, that this violated Westbrook's Fourth Amendment rights.


    If I drop off my car and hand the keys to a mechanic I've basically surrendered my right to privacy concerning anything he finds in the car while going about the repairs so if he finds anything illegal it is perfectly right for him to report it to the police if he feels that is his duty. The same applies to the technician.

    The police, on the other hand, were obviously wrong in not obtaining a warrent to search the drive.
    • by nlinecomputers (602059) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @03:17PM (#13341702)
      The parent poster is exactly correct. The computer owner looses the right to privacy when he invites someone to view and repair my computer.

      If I invite guests over to my house and serve cocaine to my guests then I can't expect privacy either if one of them reports me the cops. In either case the cops can't just bash my door in they must get a warrant. But swore testimony of a witness is usually enough to land said warrant.

      Simply put EFF is correct about needing a warrant and most likely they would have easily obtained one with a phone call. Cops screwed up here.

  • You could have files on your system showing you to be the first direct lieutenant under Osama bin Laden, and files showing his exact location, and I wouldn't turn you in.

    Well, unless I remembered the $25 million reward...

    But, then, I'd have to trust Dick Cheney to pay me.

    What are the odds?

    I might turn your ass in if you're a serial killer, but that's about it. Kiddie porn? Nope, not my problem. Drugs? Gimme a break. Did you break in and steal my stuff? I'll hose you myself, not turn you in. Are you robbing
  • David Asimov (Score:3, Informative)

    by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:42PM (#13341378)
    Son of the late Issac Asimov was busted for child pornography the very same way. http://www.newsmakingnews.com/asimov3,29,01.htm [newsmakingnews.com]
  • If we're talking Supreme Court tweaking of the Constitution and precedents, there is a very low legal threshold of what cops can get away with insofar as using informants with any quid pro quo to procure information that would otherwise be priviledged. However, a photo developer who discovers a customer's roll of kiddy porn or some busybody soccer mom reporting my solicitation of prostitutes is free to tell the cops whatever they want, voila, cops have probable cause.

    Otoh, according to Law and Order and H
  • Will a service technician now feel like an Islamic physician who must treat his female patient but mustn't look at her? And will courtroom witnesses soon be citing 'geek-consumer privilege'?
  • As of a few years, many one-hour photo labs have had a clear policy to report potentially illegal things they see develop on film dropped off.

    Photo labs develop porn-reporting policies [ljworld.com]

  • How it should work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Monty845 (739787) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @02:52PM (#13341491)
    It should work like this:

    1. Computer Repair Technician finds something he believes is illegal on your computer.
    2. Tech calls the cops
    3. Based on the claims of the tech the cops apply for and get a warrant
    4. Cops search your computer
    5. You go to jail, cops profit

    What the EFF is upset about is that they skipped step #3. What is so hard about getting the warrant and then searching the computer?
  • by Chagrin (128939) on Wednesday August 17, 2005 @03:36PM (#13341884) Homepage
    The footnote in the brief reveals why the EFF's case has (IMHO) merit:
    • Appellants assert that the technician was required to actually view the files on the hard drive in the course of performing the requested services; however, this assertion is not supported in the record

    If the technician was unreasonably searching through the computer for files he might find interesting, then there's a definite privacy problem. In other words, Gateway should not be allowed to run tasks on your computer that have no relevance to the repair, just as a plumber has no right to search your underwear drawer if he's just fixing a leaky faucet.

    It really looks like the EFF is ensuring that proper procedure was used in this search. If the technician cannot reasonably explain why he was looking at the files (and that the files were relevant to the task of repairing the computer) then the search should most definitely be declared illegal. As the case stands now, there's nothing preventing technicians from acting as agents of the police and performing unnecessary searches of your computer.

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