Leonard Deutchman writes:
The “plain view” doctrine of the Fourth Amendment holds that law enforcement properly authorized to be in a certain area can lawfully search and seize evidence seen in plain view from that vantage point.
It is seen as an “exception” to the Fourth Amendment because, under it, searches and seizures are authorized not by judicial power, but by limited circumstances.
How, then, should the plain view doctrine apply to computer searches?
Different courts have provided different answers.
In United States v. Farlow, United States v. Williams, and United States v. Mann, the 1st, 4th, and 7th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal had no problem applying the doctrine to computer searches. In United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing et al., however, the 9th Circuit, worried that applying the plain view exception would eviscerate the particularity requirement of the Fourth Amendment, sought to guard against that by requiring that computer searches follow a protocol under which law enforcement officers deeply involved in the investigation would have to forswear the plain view exception and filter all search results through other officers.
In this article, we look at the cases that apply the doctrine to computer searches. In the next article, we will look at Comprehensive Drug Testing and discuss the pros and cons of following or rejecting the doctrine.
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