When Can the Police Search Your Computer?

           In the case of State of Florida versus Eric Young, the police searched a pastor's office, including his workplace computer, without first obtaining a search warrant.  The pastor later filed a motion to suppress the evidence found by the police which included "some very questionable [w]eb site addresses."  


          The appellate court deciding Young's case stated that in order to suppress this evidence, Young had to possess a "legitimate expectation of privacy" in his computer.  In deciding whether Young had such an expectation, the court looked at such things as:


          1.  Whether the church office had a written policy regarding its ability to inspect an employee's computer.


          2.  Whether Young's computer was networked to other computers; and


          3.  Whether the church regularly monitored Young's use of his computer.  The court stated that "where an employer has a clear policy allowing others to monitor a workplace computer, an employee who uses the computer has no reasonable expectation of privacy in it.  In the absence of such a policy, the legitimacy of an expectation of privacy depends on the other circumstances of the workplace."


           The court ultimately decided that Young did, in fact, have a legitimate expectation of privacy in his office and office computer and that the evidence seized by the police should be suppressed.  The court based its decision on the following factors:


          1.  Young ensured his privacy by keeping his office locked when he was not there.


          2.  When others did use Young's office, it was for limited purposes.  Young expected no one to peruse the personal belongings located in his office or on his computer.


          3.  The church had installed a special lock on the door of Young's office for which there were only three keys, two of which were in Young's sole possession.  The only way to view what was on Young's computer was to enter through his locked office door.


          4.  Young had a recognized practice of allowing visitors into his office only with his permission or for purposes related exclusively to church business.


          5.  Although the church owned the computer in Young's office, Young was the sole, regular user of it.


          6.  Although the church administrator performed maintenance on Young's computer, only Young stored personal files on his computer.


          7.  The church had no written policy informing Young that other people at the church could enter his office and view the contents of his computer.


          8.  Young's computer was not networked to any other computers.


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