Friday, February 20, 2009

No Right to Privacy During Computer Repair

In PA, a customer left his PC at Best Buy to have a new DVD drive installed. The tech poked through his hard drive looking for a file to test the DVD drive, and found child porn. The authorities were called, the man arrested. His lawyer argued that the evidence was illegally obtained and the court agreed. The appellate court has overturned that on the grounds that he consented to the DVD drive install. So now he going back to trial.

This is the key clause from the ruling.

If a person is aware of, or freely grants to a third party, potential access to his computer contents, he has knowingly exposed the contents of his computer to the public and has lost any reasonable expectation of privacy in those contents…

Hard drives contain lots of data. Even if you are a perfectly honorable person that would never go near porn, spyware, spam, your spouse, one of your kids, or a babysitter could have downloaded illegal porn that now resides on your hard drive. Given the hysteria with which law enforcement officials react to anything child porn related, it’s a safe bet that should you end up on the wrong side of something like this, it will not be pleasant. Even beyond the illegal porn issue, most of us have all sorts of information on our computers that we would not want some stranger looking at.

It’s something to think about. It’s important to note that this was not a computer tech being nosy. He needed a video file to test the new DVD player and stumbled into the porn by accident. In a perfect world, we would all run desktop encryption that protects our personal data. I don’t even bother with that, and I’m a geek. Actually, I don’t know a single person that does.