Storage Files
There is a new legal ruling in the United States right now that could make it risky to store incriminating evidence in computers even if they happened several years ago or even it was outside the scope of an original probable-cause search warrant.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there was no constitutional violation when authorities obtain criminal evidence because the authorities acted in good faith when they initially received a search warrant, held on to the files for years, and built a case unrelated to the original search.

The case posed a vexing question—how long may the authorities keep somebody's computer files that were obtained during a search but were not germane to that search?

The convicted accountant said that only the computer files pertaining to his client — who was being investigated as part of an Army overbilling scandal — should have been retained by the government during a 2003 search. All of his personal files, which eventually led to his own tax-evasion conviction, should have been purged, he argued.

However, the appeals court said the authorities' behavior was acceptable and didn't reach the constitutional question of whether the Fourth Amendment rights were breached for accountant Stavros Ganias, who was sentenced to two years in prison.

The reason is that three years after the original search of the accountant's files in connection to the Army scandal, Connecticut authorities got another search warrant for Ganias' own tax files that were already in the government's possession, the appeals court ruled in a 12-1 decision written by Judges Debra Ann Livingston and Gerard Lynch. Ganias had subsequently deleted those files from his hard drives after the government had imaged them, according to court records.

The case is clearly nuanced, but it has huge ramifications for the public because many people keep all of their papers and effects co-mingled on their hard drives.

In his 40-page dissent, Judge Denny Chin blasted the majority opinion and said the authorities wrongly seized files from Ganias that were unrelated to the Army overbilling investigation. "The government did precisely what the Fourth Amendment forbids: it entered Ganias' premises with a warrant to seize certain papers and indiscriminately seized — and retained — all papers instead," Chin wrote.