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Can an officer search my computer if I don't want him to?

Many people are aware that the Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. Generally, police officers must obtain a warrant in order to search a home or personal effect. Additionally, officers may search if they receive consent or if there is probable cause to believe incriminating evidence is under immediate threat of destruction.

With new technology the lines have become blurred. For anyone facing fraud charges or an internet crime, an officer's ability to search for evidence may make the difference in a case. Some organizations has made an effort to spread the word about recent cases that have helped define just when police officers may search electronic devices.

Usually, officers cannot enter a home and search it or electronic devices within it without a warrant, consent or probable cause to believe it's necessary to prevent evidence destruction. It is important to note, however, that consent does not necessarily have to come from you. A roommate, guest or spouse can all give consent for access to your computer even without a warrant. The main question to ask regarding who can give consent is who has control over the item. As long as an officer reasonably believes the third person has control over the item to be searched, consent can be given. However, if two individuals in a room disagree over consent, the item cannot be searched. Is there a legal way around this? Remove one individual and ask the agreeable one again for consent to search.

For those facing computer fraud or related charges, analyzing whether an officer performed a valid search can be crucial. The right criminal defense approach can help assess whether or not a seized item can be brought into court or must be excluded due to improper procedure.

Source: www.eff.org, "Know Your Rights," Accessed Jan. 6, 2015

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