Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Online Search and Seizure

In the US we have these pesky things called "Rights."  Nobody really knows what they are anymore.  And even fewer people bother to read the documents that define them.  Especially those people that are charged with protecting them.  This seems to be true of people of all political parties.

But we can talk about that later.

Today, I want to talk about privacy for a second.  Believe it or not, we don't have a "Right to Privacy."  Not from each other and not from the Government.  Suprised?  Well, considering the state of our education system and journalism, that is not surprising.

What we do have is contained in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.  Here, let me quote it for you,

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and Warrants shall not be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

I am not going to dissect this for you.  It is really, very, plainly stated.  It is easy to understand.  There are some twisty laws and regulations and standards relating to things like "Plain Sight" and such where an officer of the law does not have to have a warrant when the crime/illegal property is in plain sight or out in the open.  But I don't even want to talk about that.

What I am talking about today is files stored in what we are now calling the cloud.  We have passed beyond the debate of people storing files on their computers.  And beyond point to point sharing and access of files on personal computers.  When it comes down to it.  These have physical locations that are most of the time either on a person, or reside in homes or other structures.

But what about a file in the cloud?  As more people are using tools like Google Docs and now Google Drive to store and share files for collaborative work, we need to ask, "Who owns them?" This is a fundamental question to who has expectations of privacy, and whether they are "In Plain Sight" or if they require probable cause to be searched.

I say searched on purpose.

As we can see, making copies of digital files is easily done, so that nothing has to be seized in the virtual world.  I can email an unlimited number of the same resume without degrading the original copy on my hard drive.  And I can do the same thing with almost any file on my computer.

So it is not necessary for the government to seize anything.  (Mega Uploads is a bit unusual.)

But what about searching?  Yes, that is what I am talking about.  Does the government need a warrant to search my google docs?  Should they?


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