Internet-Connected Home PCs Not Private Says US Court

Internet-Connected Home PCs Not Private Says US Court

Home computer users should have no expectation of privacy if their system is connected to the internet, a federal judge from the Eastern District of Virginia has ruled.

The ruling concerns the FBI’s infiltration of PlayPen, a hidden Tor service that facilitated the exploitation of children, and subsequent complaints from digital rights activists that, while acknowledging the emotive issue of this particular case, the agency was able to obtain personal details of hundreds of people on a single catch-all warrant.

Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr., though, upheld the warrant, arguing that computer users connected to the internet should have no “objectively reasonable expectation of privacy.”

“It is clear to the Court that Defendant took great strides to hide his IP address via his use of the Tor network,” the judge’s ruling reads. “However, the court FINDS that any such subjective expectation of privacy—if one even existed in this case—is not objectively reasonable.”

This decision is in opposition to a previous decision made by the Ninth Circuit in 2007, which determined that a network connection does not invalidate a user’s “subjective expectation of privacy and an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in his personal computer,” a point which Judge Morgan Jr. contends has become moot.

“[H]acking is much more prevalent now than it was even nine years ago, and the rise of computer hacking via the Internet has changed the public’s reasonable expectations of privacy,” the judge said. “Now, it seems unreasonable to think that a computer connected to the Web is immune from invasion. Indeed, the opposite holds true: In today’s digital world, it appears to be a virtual certainty that computers accessing the Internet can—and eventually will—be hacked.”

Judge Morgan Jr. even went as far as saying that the FBI was under no obligation to obtain the single warrant it used to compromise PlayPen in the first place, a contention that the Electronic Frontier Foundation says violates the entire legal concept of privacy as outlined in the Fourth Amendment.

“The Justice Department has a practice of carving out novel legal interpretations and then advancing them in court,” Andrew Crocker, an EFF attorney,told eWEEK. “I would not be surprised if they did try to rely on the idea that they don’t need a warrant for this type of hacking.”

“The decision underscores a broader trend in these cases,” the EFF added in a blog post. “Courts across the country, faced with unfamiliar technology and unsympathetic defendants, are issuing decisions that threaten everyone’s rights.”

Image courtesy of FactorTG.


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