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Confiscated data must be returned or deleted if it's not covered by a warrant

Michael Gorman, @Numeson
June 18, 2014
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Picture a scenario where the government's accused you of a crime. During its investigation, law enforcement copies your computer's hard drive to look for evidence of your misdeeds (pursuant to a warrant, of course). Until today, it was unclear if law enforcement could hold onto copies of your data forever. A new Federal Court decision, however, has crystallized things for us all: the government can no longer keep that data indefinitely. United States v. Ganias is the name of the case in question, and the court held that indefinite retention of our digital files is an illegal seizure under the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution.

So now, when law enforcement obtains, searches, and finds the data it's looking for pursuant to a warrant, it's got to either return the other files it copied or delete them. Unfortunately, the Appeals court didn't say just how long the government can keep that other data before disposing of it -- meaning someone else gets to figure that little detail out. Gotta keep those lower courts busy, right?

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