What is most surprising is how easy the police and authorities were able to break the law and flip the bird to the U.S. Constitution. A lot of people worry about government groups like the NSA having illegal access to data, but I don't mind that.. I don't care about the Chinese Government doing similar activity that much either.. The thing that I DO care about is this could happen to anyone.. It's happened to me before but never to this extent with the courts.. This is NOT cool.
The police used inapplicable criminal laws as a basis for a fishing expedition to determine the author of an anonymous email," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Now, this student has been suspended from his job, and he is without a laptop and other devices he needs to do his schoolwork. His private communications and papers are in the hands of police who are searching for evidence without just cause. Even his cell phone and iPod were taken, clearly an overreach if the goal is tracking the source of an email.
This search warrant is invalid, as there is no probable cause that a crime was committed at all... Every day this student's private information is in the hands of the police department, he suffers harm to his property interests and his constitutional rights.
The dorm room search stemmed from an investigation into who sent an email to a Boston College mailing list alleging that another student was gay. Police say they know who sent the email and that the sender committed the crimes of "obtaining computer services by fraud or misrepresentation" and obtaining "unauthorized access to a computer system." However, nothing presented by the investigating officer to obtain the warrant, including the allegation that the student sent the email to the mailing list, could constitute the cited criminal offenses.
Think if you were known as someone good with computers at your work or school, and something as small as a mean-spirited email was sent to the whole organization.. Then they come into your office, suspend you from working, and send your cell phone, ipod, disks, backups, and computer to the local police station where it is then hammered at by some average cop who's only security skill is knowing how to use the special forensic detective programs that are illegal for the general public, but really aren't all that impressive. This can wreck havoc on your hard-drives, and if it fails at the police station? Sorry no backups!
How are individuals supposed to take-on such established authoritative organizations like the Police? When/How do you get your stuff back? How many people do you have to call to even find out IF you'll get it back or even learn where they've taken it? Under criminal investigation, the courts are involved, the state police are involved, and you lost your job and means to make a living.. what can you possibly do?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing the student, along with a very good law firm: Fish & Richardson. They've petitioned the court for the immediate return of his property and is demanding that investigators be prohibited from any further searches or analysis of his digital data. Massachusetts State Police participated in the search and are overseeing the forensic analysis of the seized property. The damage has already been done, now its time to put the hurt down on them so they don't trample the Constitution so easily the next time.
April 17th, 2009