Judge rules a police hack can be a search

Judge rules a police hack can be a search
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A federal judge in Texas has ruled that hacking someone’s computer counts as a search, meaning police must get a warrant to hack into someone’s computer.

Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra of the San Antonio division of the Western District of Texas court ruled that the FBI needed a proper warrant when it hacked Jeffrey Jerry Torres’s computer. 

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Torres is facing charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. Torres and others were allegedly caught by the FBI for using the dark web child pornography site Playpen. 

“[The contention that] Mr. Torres did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his IP address is of no import. This was unquestionably a 'search' for Fourth Amendment purposes,” Ezra wrote.

In February 2015, the FBI seized and then ran Playpen for two weeks. In that time, they installed malware on users computers to identify suspects.

In a previous case, a judge had ruled that because users accessing Playpen, via the dark web browser Tor, made their IP address known to another computer in order to access Tor, they gave up any reasonable expectation of privacy for their IP address.

Ezra disagreed, supporting the idea that Tor users had a reasonable expectation of privacy on the platform.

The warrant that the FBI used in the Torres case also came under question because it was used to obtain information beyond the district that it was issued in. 

Ezra ruled that the FBI did not “willfully” violate a rule that prevents judges from issuing warrants beyond their districts. If the specific violation is not willful and was meant in good faith, then evidence obtained in this manner does not need to be thrown out, as in other cases.