Cyber Crimes and the Fourth Amendment

What is cyber-crime? When someone commits a cyber-crime, they’ve committed an illegal action through a network or computer. This can range from illegally downloading music files to stealing millions of dollars from online bank accounts. As the world becomes more and more dependent on computer technology, cyber-based crimes are more frequently charged by prosecutors. Even though it is difficult to place cybercrimes into a single crime category, prosecutors tend to group them into the following broad areas:

  1. The computer is the target – attacking the computers of others (e.g., hacking, spreading malicious software)
  2. The computer is a weapon – using a computer to commit a crime (e.g., stalking, identity theft, sexually-exploitative behavior)
  3. The computer is an accessory – using a computer to store illegal or stolen information (e.g., child pornography, personally identifiable information of others)

Compelling reasons exist for preventing cyber-crimes. Our livelihoods are intimately connected to internet related activities. To safeguard our personal and economic interests, law enforcement is rapidly developing new technology and tactics for detecting, investigating, and prosecuting cyber-crime. Despite their beneficial nature, many of these tools and strategies do not always respect the Fourth Amendment.

When law enforcement crosses the line

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. It protects our privacy. Unsurprisingly, this protection conflicts with many of the techniques used by law enforcement to fight cyber-crime. Creative ways in which law enforcement accesses and conducts surveillance on personal computers, cell phones, and email are not always legal. In particular, these methods can violate the privacy of people’s activities as well as the sanctity of their personal property.

Unlike the real world which has distinct physical boundaries, the world of networks and computers is much more ambiguous. However, despite this difference, law enforcement is obligated to adhere to constitutionally permissible search protocol when investigating cyber-crimes. Failure to do so may result in the suppression of evidence and a dismissal of charges.

Questionable Investigative Techniques

People involved in cyber-crimes have sought out new ways to communicate on the internet and avoid government detection. While some methods have allegedly been effective, others have not. The Silk Road prosecutions occurred because the government grew concerned about the sale of illegal drugs and narcotics on the “Dark Web.” Ironically, The Onion Router or (TOR) which was used to conceal internet activities was actually created by the United States government to give third-word countries secure internet access. The network investigative techniques (NIT) used by the government to prosecute that case have faced a great deal of scrutiny. Criminal defense attorneys argued that the government failed to disclose crucial information about the techniques it used to investigate. It’s difficult to challenge the legality of a search if the government fails to provide information about how the search was actually conducted. The function of the criminal defense attorney is to protect the rights of the citizens from the overreach of the government.

What to do?

If you’ve been charged with committing a cybercrime, you have the right to the protection of a criminal defense attorney. Berry Law has the resources and experience to protect your rights and your freedom. Remember, no matter what the crime or how serious the charge, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from illegal government searches and seizures. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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