The Warrant Clause in the Digital Age

New ACLU paper on avoiding general searches in the execution of warrants for electronic data

People deserve strong privacy protections when police seek, obtain, and execute search warrants for digital information, especially because what we store on our phones and computers is so comprehensive, sensitive, and revealing. The Fourth Amendment is the primary protection for this data, but court interpretations of that constitutional right have sometimes fallen short. Just as with analog papers and effects, today’s warrants must prevent the founders’ reviled “general search” — rummaging through private data for any or no cause and without judicial oversight. And warrants can do this without inhibiting law enforcement in conducting legitimate expectations. 

This paper identifies the problems with search warrants for electronic data and sets forth legal arguments in support of robust rules for obtaining and executing warrants. Defense attorneys, magistrates, and prosecutors seeking to protect privacy while authorizing legitimate investigations can benefit from this paper. The paper is available below, and an appendix of legal resources, primarily copies of ACLU amicus briefs addressing the scope and execution of warrants is here. For assistance with a case involving the obtaining or execution of such a search warrant, feel free to contact ACLU attorney Jennifer Stisa Granick. 

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