Texas Federal Judge Denies Governments Request For Webcam Warrant
As almost anyone who has watched a crime drama on television knows, police need a warrant before they can enter a person’s home to conduct a search. In fact, both the United States and Texas Constitutions protect people from “unreasonable” seizure and searches. And, in most circumstances police can only obtain a search warrant if they have probable cause for the search and adequately describe to a judge what they are searching for.
Interestingly, a federal magistrate judge’s decision in Texas recently demonstrated these constitutional protections at work. Specifically, the opinion involved a request by the Government for a warrant to search an “unknown computer at an unknown location” for evidence of alleged bank fraud and identify theft.
In particular, the Government sought to remotely install software on the target computer to not only discover its location but to also search the computer’s hard drives for evidence and to activate the computer’s webcam in order to take pictures of the computer’s user.
However, the court quickly made note that there was no guarantee that the computer in question was even located in the United States – thus there was no way of knowing if the court had the authority to issue the warrant in the first place.
In addition, the court discussed that the Government’s warrant application failed to meet constitutional muster in that it did not adequately describe how the government would actually find the computer in question – not to mention the fact that the search may violate the rights of others who may be using the same computer for non-illegal purposes.
Ultimately, the court denied the Government’s warrant request stating that the “extremely intrusive nature of such a search requires careful adherence” to constitutional precedent and federal rules.
The safeguards offered by the U.S. and Texas Constitutions cannot be overstated. For example, the protection from unreasonable searches not only shields people from illegal searches but also prevents the government from using the evidence found during such illegal searches against a person in trial – which is often referred to as the Exclusionary Rule.
Generally, the Exclusionary Rule requires a Texas court to suppress any evidence obtained during an illegal search, in addition to all evidence derived from the search – which is commonly associated with the legal tenet known as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
In this growing age of technology, the definition of what is considered an “unreasonable” search is under constant change, as the recent federal decision illustrates. Consequently, if you have been charged with a crime following an illegal search, it is generally a good idea to speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney in order to learn what your legal rights and options may be.