A recent murder case in Canada which eventually saw Michael Thomas Rafferty convicted of killing 8-year-old Victoria 'Tori' Stafford raised eyebrowss and fears when evidence found on a computer during the execution of a search warrant of the suspect's vehicle was thrown out of court. This decision once again pitted tried and true criminal law against modern technology.
If evidence had been found in a suitcase or briefcase in the car, would it have been allowed as evidence? Why is it that computers require a special warrant to access their content? Does the content of cell phones, Smart phones, CD's or DVD's lie outside the parameters of a search warrant of a place or vehicle? What if a camera had been found in the car with incriminating pictures stored in it? What about a sketch pad with a map of the crime scene drawn in it?
Is there something sacred about digital information that requires special warrants and why should that be? If investigators can open a dresser drawer to look for evidence during a legal search, why can't they open a file on a hard drive? If they can peruse a diary, why can't they look at the search history on a computer?
FATAL ERROR on Amazon.com
FATAL ERROR eBook in the UK
FATAL ERROR paperback in the UK
The nation heaved a huge sigh of relief when the jury returned a guilty verdict, even without the incriminating evidence that had been disallowed by the judge. But it could have been different...and terrible.
Undoubtedly the reasonable grounds used to obtain a search warrant for the suspect's vehicle could have been used to get one for the computer as well, but it's understandable why the police didn't think they needed another warrant--at least it's understandable to me. Obviously, the judge in the case thought differently.
The nation now waits for a review of the law and ruling as it ponders if digital privacy is more special than the less-virtual kind.
Eileen Schuh, Author
Web site: http://www.eileenschuh.com