Friday, January 12, 2007

Fourth Circuit declines to suppress evidence from password protected computer files

In United States v. Buckner, Buckner appealed from an order denying his motion to suppress evidence gathered from password-protected files on the harddrive of a computer police seized from his home. The officers seized and searched the computer, without a warrant, on the basis of oral consent granted by Buckner's wife, Michelle. Buckner argued that although Michelle's consent sufficed to give the officers permission to search the computer itself, her consent could not extend to his password-protected files. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the ruling of the lower court because Michelle did have apparent authority to consent to the search of these files.

According to the panel, the Government need not establish that Michelle had actual authority to consent to a search of Buckner' s password protected files. It is sufficient that Michelle had apparent authority to consent to the searched issue. That is, the facts available to the officer at the moment warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the consenting party had authority.

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