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Criminal charges could be based on government hacking

Hundreds of charges have been filed based on government hacking in a child pornography case. In this case, the FBI not only seized the servers used to host a child pornography site, it kept the site up and running in order to access user information and hack into the computers of site visitors in Texas and elsewhere. These included close to 9,000 devices located in 120 countries.

For many people, child pornography is an emotional issue. However, the issue of government hacking extends far beyond child pornography to all criminal cases. An alteration to procedures in federal criminal courts has allowed federal agents to use just one warrant to search and hack into vast numbers of electronic devices, without any need to specify the targets of the hacking or their location.

This means that government hacking threatens to extend itself not only into child pornography cases, but into any criminal case that could involve online interaction. For example, drug trafficking and even possession cases could be filed based on purchases and sales from e-commerce websites. Charges based on theft, burglary or distribution or possession of stolen goods could also be filed in vast numbers based on online interactions.

This means that these new government hacking procedures are of significant concern to criminal defense lawyers and privacy advocates. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed briefs in a number of the pornography cases, seeking to suppress the evidence obtained through what it views as unconstitutional hacking.

Cases like these highlight the importance of qualified, knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers to protect the rights and interests of defendants, especially on the new frontiers of law and technology. Federal criminal cases with an online element could include evidence obtained through this type of procedure, and a lawyer could seek to have such evidence excluded on constitutional grounds.

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