Legal Technology News - E-Discovery and Compliance Blog

« LegalTech West Coast Presentation | Main | Reed Smith Raids K&L Gates for New EDD Team »

May 16, 2011

The Tipster

The First Circuit Court of Appeals decided an interesting case last week on the value of passwords.  The case is United States v. D’Andrea.

Informant In this case, a woman, whom the court refers to as (the "Tipster," called a child abuse hotline operated by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. The Tipster, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that she had received a message on her mobile phone containing photographs of the defendants performing sexual acts on the Tipster’s eight-year-old daughter.  She provided to the agency a certain phone number and password used to access the photos.

Agency employees accessed the website using the password.  They found what appeared to be child pornography and printed some of the images.  A police detective applied for a warrant to search the defendant’s home, where incriminating evidence was found. 

Notably, one of the defendant’s contacted the cell phone provider and deleted the account. As a result, the only evidence from the account was the printouts made by agency employees.   

On appeal, the defendants claimed that the viewing of the web site by the agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights. 

Because the Tipster was a private actor, her unauthorized viewing of the website did not implicate the Fourth Amendment.  The trial court concluded that the defendants “assumed the risk” that the incriminating photos would be viewed by others, including government agents, when they provided Tipster with the password.  The question, then, is whether the government agents exceeded the authority provided to Tipster.  The defendants submitted affidavits that they did not intentionally share the password with Tipster. 

The Appeals Court sent the case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defendants intentionally shared the password and, if they did, whether the government agents exceeded the authority given to Tipster to view the images on the website. 

The case also address other doctrinal issues, such as inevitable discovery and exigent circumstances.  But an unstated assumption about passwords is worth a note.  The assumption is that by protecting the website with a password, the defendants had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents.  This is significant because the incriminating photographs were stored on a website owned and maintained by a third party business. 

In other words, even though the defendants let a business hold their data, by using a password they did not give up privacy in the contents.




TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Tipster:


The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign Up for the E-Discovery and Compliance Newsletter

An Affiliate of the Network

From the Newswire

Sign up to receive Legal Blog Watch by email
View a Sample

Contact EDD Update

Subscribe to this blog's feed

RSS Feed: LTN Podcast

Monica Bay's Law Technology Now Podcasts are also available as an RSS feed.

Go to RSS Subscribe page

March 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Blog Directory - Blogged