When Joe Cadillic sent me a link to this article, the headline sounded so far-fetched that I figured it was some wild conspiracy theory. But it turns out it’s not.
Juliana DeVries reports that people are being prosecuted under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for destroying evidence – including browser history – even if they were unaware that they were under investigation at the time of the destruction!
The law was, in part, intended to prohibit corporations under federal investigation from shredding incriminating documents. But since Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in 2002 federal prosecutors have applied the law to a wider range of activities. A police officer in Colorado who falsified a report to cover up a brutality case was convicted under the act, as was a woman in Illinois who destroyed her boyfriend’s child pornography.
Prosecutors are able to apply the law broadly because they do not have to show that the person deleting evidence knew there was an investigation underway. In other words, a person could theoretically be charged under Sarbanes-Oxley for deleting her dealer’s number from her phone even if she were unaware that the feds were getting a search warrant to find her marijuana. The application of the law to digital data has been particularly far-reaching because this type of information is so easy to delete. Deleting digital data can inadvertently occur in normal computer use, and often does.
Hanni Fakhoury, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the feds’ broad interpretation of Sarbanes-Oxley in the digital age is part of a wider trend: federal agents’ feeling “entitled” to digital data.
Read more on The Nation.