The luxury that hindsight offers is something that cannot be completely exploited in situations such as the one we are in right now. Technological advances are so fast that the law, among others, is having a hard time catching up. This is perhaps much easier in more advanced countries, where technology develops faster, than it is in less advanced, still developing countries. But, essentially, it’s the same across the board. Technology races on, and the law has to adapt as fast as it can.
This article reports that the US Circuit Court of Appeals just recently promulgated a decision that altered the guidelines regarding computer search and seizures established in an earlier case. That “earlier case” means “just last year”.
According to the article, the original ruling goes something like this. Pursuant to a validly issued search warrant, the government can only get specific information from, for example, a hard drive—not the entire content of a hard drive. If the government can’t do that, they have to agree to a court-supervised, independent third party to do the searching and providing the government with the data pursuant to the search warrant—and only such data. If the government refuses to agree to these terms, the search warrant won’t be issued.
To government’s response to these guidelines: objection. Too restrictive.
Although the basic doctrine still holds (i.e., searches will be limited to what is indicated in the warrant; everything beyond remains inadmissible), the recent ruling is said to have nullified the abovementioned guidelines, much to the delight of the government.
The long-term (perhaps even medium-term) effects and implications of these rulings are highly improbable to assess. Well, for one, the original ruling’s guidelines can no longer be fully evaluated. And the new ruling? Only time will tell, I suppose.
As technology marches on, it leaves in its wake a litany of legal issues. But as these legal issues are placed under scrutiny for future guidance, newer technology comes into the picture, forcing the law into a mad scramble of sorts to just keep up. Technology revolutionizes life almost on a regular basis. And while fundamental legal doctrines act like fog horns as we navigate the uncertain waters of the future, it is undeniable that the law is placed in a state of constant flux.
-- William G. Ragamat