News article re hacking a computer requires a search warrant

posted September 16, 2016

A federal judge in Texas has ruled that hacking someone’s computer counts as a search, meaning police must get a warrant to hack into someone’s computer.

Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra of the San Antonio division of the Western District of Texas court ruled that the FBI needed a proper warrant when it hacked Jeffrey Jerry Torres’s computer.

Torres is facing charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. Torres and others were allegedly caught by the FBI for using the dark web child pornography site Playpen.
“The contention that Mr. Torres did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his IP address is of no import. This was unquestionably a ‘search’ for Fourth Amendment purposes,” Ezra wrote.

In February 2015, the FBI seized and then ran Playpen for two weeks. In that time, they installed malware on users computers to identify suspects.

In a previous case, a judge had ruled that because users accessing Playpen, via the dark web browser Tor, made their IP address known to another computer in order to access Tor, they gave up any reasonable expectation of privacy for their IP address.

Judge Ezra disagreed, supporting the idea that Tor users had a reasonable expectation of privacy on the platform.