Warrants in the Digital Age: Courts Face Evolving Frontier

The smart devices we carry with us and cling to represent treasure troves of personal data; they could be the linchpin a prosecutor needs to prove a person's location when a crime occurred, which is why agencies are more active than ever in going after them. Together, our personal technology's value and the related privacy issues has become a new sort of frontier for law enforcement and our courts. And the parameters around law enforcement's access — and whether access is even given — must be dealt with.

For US Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith, who began his term as a magistrate judge in Houston, Texas, in 2004, computer and device searches present an interesting challenge. When he started the federal judgeship, he said the rules of around technology were still solidifying and opinions were difficult to come by. “We need to make our warrant docket just as publicly accessible as the civil and criminal docket is. Obviously you can’t immediately disclose the warrant applications or the tracking device applications because you’re going to blow the investigation,” he explained. “So some limited degree of sealing is necessary, but it doesn’t need to be sealed forever. It seems to me that there is some information about that application that ought to be available to the public immediately.”


Warrants in the Digital Age: Courts Face Evolving Frontier