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A Click on a URL Isn’t Enough for a Search Warrant

Prevalence of Link Shorteners and Other Tools Mean You Might Not Know Where You Are Going
PRESS RELEASE
August 31, 2018

A Click on a URL Isn’t Enough for a Search Warrant

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked an appeals court to ensure that a click on a URL isn’t enough to get a search warrant for your house.

In U.S. v. Nikolai Bosyk, law enforcement discovered a link to a file-sharing service that was suspected of being used to share child pornography. Prosecutors got a warrant to search Bosyk’s home based only on the fact that someone attempted to access the link from his home. The warrant application included no information on why or how the user encountered the link, or if he had any knowledge of what it linked to.

In an amicus brief filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, EFF argues that law enforcement should gather more evidence before subjecting someone to an invasive home search. It’s not always clear what kinds of sites URLs link to, particularly with the prevalence of link shorteners or other tools that obscure a link’s destination.

“It’s easy to see how someone could be misdirected to content that they never intended to access. In fact, it happens all the time, as part of ‘Rickrollingand other pranks,” said EFF Staff Attorney Stephanie Lacambra. “Police officers shouldn’t be able get a warrant to rifle through your house just because you clicked on something you might never have wanted to see. Without further evidence that the person suspected of the crime knew what the content was and intended to access it, courts should decline to authorize such search warrants.”

This case is one of many stemming from the investigation of the “Playpensite, a hidden web service that hosted child pornography. The government has used a number of legally questionable tactics in trying to find Playpen users, including using a single warrant to target hundreds of different people, and installing malware into thousands of computers around the world.

“Although it may be tempting to overlook law enforcement overreach when it comes to tracking down potential pedophiles, the ramifications for our Fourth Amendment rights are dire,” said EFF Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey. “If we let police trample on the privacy rights of individuals suspected of reprehensible crimes, we erode everyone’s constitutional rights.”

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-40

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