Court: No warrant needed to search your work PC

All that's necessary is the permission of the business that owns the computer, a Washington state court rules.

Police do not need a search warrant to examine an employee's computer for incriminating files, a Washington state appeals court has ruled.

All that is necessary is the permission of the business that owns the computer, the appeals court said in a 3-0 decision last week.

In April 2003, when Jack Leck briefly worked at a nonprofit organization called the World Peace Ambassadors, he allegedly used an office computer to do Web searches for preteen boys and girls and participate in related mailing lists from his Hotmail account. When police showed up with some questions, the nonprofit group permitted that computer to be seized without a warrant.

Leck was charged with 50 counts of possessing child pornography and sentenced to four years in prison. He claimed the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab's seizure and search of the computer without a warrant was illegal because it violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

The appeals court disagreed. The Washington state Supreme Court has authorized warrantless searches as long as the lawful owner of the property gives consent voluntarily, the court noted. "Leck did not share equal authority with (the nonprofit's director) over the WPA office or computer, thus, Leck's consent to the state's search was not necessary," wrote Judge Marywave Van Deren.

The court upheld Leck's conviction and sentence.

About the author

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

 

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