Can Police Search Your Computer if You Take it to a Repair Shop?
Unless you are a tech wizard, you will likely take your computer to a repair shop when it breaks down. However, you may be worried about the repairman accessing your personal information. Will all your files be accessible? What happens if the repairman finds evidence of illegal activity?
According to a recent court ruling, law enforcement cannot search your computer without probable cause, even if a repairman or service has possession of your computer.
What Happens at the Repair Shop Gets Told to Police (People v. Michael Evans)
Michael Evans took his computer to a repair shop. While his computer was being repaired, images of youthful-appearing girls posing in a sexual manner were discovered, but none of the girls were nude. Despite that fact, the owner of the repair shop contacted the police.
Law enforcement went to the repair shop and viewed the images, ultimately determining that they were not pornographic. Nonetheless, police proceeded to direct an employee at the repair shop to search through everything else on the computer. Under the officer’s guidance, a repair shop employee found video files that were previously unnoticed. The employee was unable to open the files, so the police officer saved them to a flash drive and took that drive to the police department for further investigation.
After accessing the files, law enforcement discovered videos that depicted minor females engaging in sexual activity. Evans was charged with possession of child pornography under PC 311.11. During his trial, he motioned the court to suppress the video files that were found on his computer, but the motion was denied and Evans was convicted.
How Did the Court Rule?
The Court of Appeal found that the police’s search and seizure of the video files was unlawful. The court ruled that the trial court erred in describing the hard drive as a closed container, and incorrectly concluded that the search by the repair shop employee was a private search because it was performed under the direction of law enforcement.
The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit law enforcement from using private information discovered by a private party, but does prohibit law enforcement officials from taking the information revealed by the private party and further examining it without first obtaining a warrant.
Due to the fact that neither the repair shop employee nor the officer involved could open the video files, the court concluded that Evans had a reasonable expectation that the files would remain private. By taking those files without a warrant, a Fourth Amendment violation occurred.
Please Share Your Thoughts
Do you agree with the court’s ruling in this case? Should you have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you take your computer to a repair shop? Is it wrong that the repair shop informed the police?
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