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The Courts Communications Government

Judge Tells Feds To Be More Specific About Email Search Warrants 41

Posted by Soulskill
from the get-what-you-need,-not-what-you-want dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In yet another example of the judicial branch of the government becoming more critical of federal mass acquisition of personal data, federal magistrate judge John Facciola in D.C. 'denied a government warrant request to search an unnamed user's @mac.com e-mail address, citing the request as being overbroad.' The judge further noted (PDF), 'While it is evident from closely reading the Application and its attachments what the government is really after, it is equally evident that the government is using language that has the potential to confuse the provider—in this case Apple—which must determine what information must be given to the government. This Court should not be placed in the position of compelling Apple to divine what the government actually seeks. Until this Application is clarified, it will be denied.'"
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Judge Tells Feds To Be More Specific About Email Search Warrants

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Poor Federal Magistrate Judge John Facciola just became a target himself.

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @09:25PM (#46521429)

    Not much new there.

    Warrant requests are modified regularly. [newrepublic.com]

    • Wow... next time I end up in court, I sure hope the judge sits down with me and lets me re-word my plea over and over until I win. That'd be great.

      • Wow... next time I end up in court, I sure hope the judge sits down with me and lets me re-word my plea over and over until I win. That'd be great.

        What else is he supposed to do in this case? There is nothing like a "double jeopardy" rule that applies to warrant applications, so the government's attorneys have and always will have the ability to keep doing it over until they get something that the judge finds acceptable.

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          What else is he supposed to do in this case? There is nothing like a "double jeopardy" rule that applies to warrant applications, so the government's attorneys have and always will have the ability to keep doing it over until they get something that the judge finds acceptable.

          How about 3 strikes and you're out?
          I've heard that is really popular amongst prosecutors and law enforcement.

          • No, that is only for unindicted terrorists.

          • How about 3 strikes and you're out?
            I've heard that is really popular amongst prosecutors and law enforcement.

            And how would you count the strikes? That would require some sort of central records of warrant applications, each one indexed by something. Using a suspect's name wouldn't be reliable (warrants listing "john Doe" are issued all the time, when law enforcement is trying to get evidence needed to identify a suspect). And you wouldn't be able to rely on a "case ID", since law enforcement would be the one issuing said ID, and could just "open a new case" when they ran out of strikes.

            Now add in the possibili

        • by flyneye (84093)

          But when its acceptable to the judge, youll note, it isnt what the cops wanted and it is what theyll have to settle for.

      • Re:Warrant requests (Score:5, Informative)

        by cold fjord (826450) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @11:59PM (#46522053)

        Wow... next time I end up in court, I sure hope the judge sits down with me and lets me re-word my plea over and over until I win. That'd be great.

        I'm not sure that you understand what is going on there. The warrant modifications are generally additional restrictions on the warrant, or splitting them to make them more specific, not greater freedom. Is that "winning"? Maybe if you're Charlie Sheen and have tiger blood.

        The judges who preside over America's secret court [reuters.com]

        ... There is a rigorous review process of applications submitted by the executive branch, spearheaded initially by five judicial branch lawyers who are national security experts, and then by the judges, to ensure that the court's authorizations comport with what the applicable statutes authorize." ...

        In rare public remarks 10 years ago, a former presiding FISA judge, Royce Lamberth, described the process: "I ask questions. I get into the nitty-gritty. I know exactly what is going to be done and why. And my questions are answered, in every case, before I approve an application."

        Syracuse University College of Law professor William C. Banks, who follows the FISA court closely, said he suspects that warrants are "modified" when judges request more information about a warrant or decide to split a warrant with multiple suspects, phone numbers and locations into several, more specific ones.

  • Actually ask for a specific thing rather than everything that someone has ever done online? What if they miss something.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I was going to make a snide post, but the fact that a judge denying a vague warrant is now news is just sad.

    • Re:waa waa what?!?! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @10:38PM (#46521753)

      Keep in mind that the government already has the data they are requesting. The warrant is simply how they legitimize that data so they can use it in court.

    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @11:15PM (#46521887)

      That's likely why they were using boilerplate. The judge pointed out that the text being used was boilerplate from a 2009 Department of Justice document. That document specifies all sorts of things to make sure that it covers everything in cases where agencies need to search through computer accounts, but the agency making this request was really only interested in the e-mails, so the judge told them to ditch the boilerplate and write what they meant, since otherwise Apple may think that they're compelled to turn over everything.

      Also worth noting: this is just a run-of-the-mill case, not some sort of secret court or national security case. The only interesting thing here is a judge acting with some sense. Oh, and that it may be an indication of a growing recognition that citizens have an expectation of privacy with regards to e-mail.

  • Hoping that an email request will be seen by a provider as all data surrounding that account i.e. email, IM and other computer related tasks?
    Great to see the US legal system noting that a vast set of historic data, complex links to other users exists beyond just a classic email accounts data.
  • Government search request = *.*
  • This judge has dealt with this issue in other cases, and in fact had previously told the government exactly what it should do in order to avoid the 4th Amendment problems of general warrants. FTA:

    "[In a previous ruling, the Court] warned the government to “adopt stricter search parameters in future applications” or the Court would be "unwilling to issue any search and seizure warrants for electronic data that ignore the constitutional obligations to avoid ‘general’ electronic warrants.” Facebook Opinion, 2013 WL 7856600, at *8. The Court recommended several different approaches, including key word searches, using an independent special master to conduct searches, or segregating the people who are performing the search from those who are conducting the investigation.""

    The government attorneys in this case are hopefully looking for a new gig. You don't ignore a judge and feed him boilerplate when he's already on to you.

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