The California Court of Appeals has upheld a Napa County court decision finding that a child pornographer had no reasonable expectation of privacy in files that were publically-accessible, despite his having taken measures to obfuscate them.
After the trial court denied his motion to suppress evidence, defendant Richard Evensen pleaded guilty to various sex crimes. This evidence had been obtained through software tools known as "RoundUp" that targets peer-to-peer-file-sharing networks to identify Internet Protocol ("IP") addresses associated with known digital files of child pornography. RoundUp is only available to law enforcement officials. A public website identified one such IP address to be registered with Comcast, which, upon execution of a search warrant, revealed the subscriber of the IP address to be Evensen's mother. A second search warrant was then executed, leading to further inculpatory evidence. Upon Evensen's arrest, further evidence of wrongdoing was also found.
In his motion to suppress, Evensen argued that the software tools used by the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court rejected this and the appellate court affirmed.
According to the court, while computer users "generally have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their personal computers," there are certain exceptions. One such exception is in the contents of a file that has been downloaded to a publically accessible folder through file-sharing software. Although Evensen argued that he took several measures to ensure the privacy of his computer files by changing his file sharing software's default setting to prevent others from accessing his shared public folders, the court noted that these measures still left his files occasionally open to the public (depending on how often he moved his files from his "shared" folder to his "private folder"). Had his files been completely private, they would not have been identified by "RoundUp." Therefore, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
People v. Evensen, No. A145162 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2016)
Copyright (c) 2016 International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) - Republished with permission