What are the Limits of Social Media Searches?

posted by Judge_Burke @ 14:30 PM
September 5, 2017

From Professor Orin Kerr at The George Washington University Law School:

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit suggested that the Fourth Amendment may impose significant limits on the two-step process in the specific context of search warrants for social media accounts. The case is United States v. Blake.

In Blake, two defendants, Dontavious Blake and Tara Jo Moore, were allegedly running a prostitution ring. The government obtained search warrants for Microsoft email accounts Blake and Moore used, as well as for the contents of Moore’s Facebook account. The email warrants required Microsoft to go through the accounts and find emails responsive to the warrant and turn only those over. The Facebook warrants required Facebook to hand over the full contents of the account and to then let the agents search it for the evidence of crime.

In an opinion by Judge Ed Carnes, the 11th Circuit concluded that the Microsoft warrants satisfied the Fourth Amendment but suggested that the Facebook warrants may not. Here’s the court rejecting Moore’s email warrant challenge:

The Microsoft warrant [for Moore’s e-mail account] complied with the particularity requirement. It limited the emails to be turned over to the government, ensuring that only those that had the potential to contain incriminating evidence would be disclosed. Those limitations prevented “a general, exploratory rummaging” through Moore’s email correspondence. The Microsoft warrant was okay.

In a footnote, the court added:

It is somewhat troubling that the Microsoft warrant did not limit the emails sought to emails sent or received within the time period of Moore’s suspected participation in the conspiracy. Nevertheless, the warrant was appropriately limited in scope because it sought only discrete categories of emails that were connected to the alleged crimes. As a result, the lack of a time limitation did not render the warrant unconstitutional.

 

For the compete commentary by Professor Kerr, go here.

 


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