21 Sep 23

Los Angeles Computer Searches

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Last Updated on: 2nd October 2023, 05:33 pm

Los Angeles Computer Searches

Computer searches are an important tool used by law enforcement in Los Angeles and across the country. However, these searches also raise significant privacy concerns that need to be balanced with public safety. This article will examine the legal issues around computer searches in Los Angeles.

Background on Computer Searches

Law enforcement may conduct a computer search as part of an investigation to find evidence of criminal activity. This can include searching files stored on a computer hard drive or other devices, emails, internet browsing history, and more [1]. These searches are usually conducted under a search warrant, which allows police to seize and search electronic devices.

Computer searches involve accessing large amounts of very personal information. The Supreme Court has recognized that these searches can implicate privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures [2].

Los Angeles Cases on Computer Searches

There have been several notable cases in Los Angeles around computer searches:

  • In United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, federal investigators seized drug testing records for Major League Baseball players under a warrant. However, the Ninth Circuit found they exceeded the scope of the warrant by seizing other confidential records [3].
  • In United States v. Ganias, the government seized computer hard drives for a tax investigation. Two years later, they searched the drives for evidence of other crimes. The Second Circuit found this violated the Fourth Amendment limits on searches [4].
  • In Facebook v. Superior Court, Facebook challenged warrants to search the profile and private messages of criminal suspects. The California Supreme Court upheld the warrants but required procedures to protect privacy [5].

These cases highlight the privacy issues around overbroad or invasive computer searches. Courts have tried to strike a balance between law enforcement needs and individual rights.

Limits on Computer Searches in Los Angeles

There are some limits Los Angeles law enforcement must follow when conducting computer searches:

  • They typically need a search warrant based on probable cause of criminal activity [6].
  • The warrant must specifically describe what will be searched and seized – officers can’t embark on a “fishing expedition” .
  • Evidence found outside the scope of the warrant may be suppressed and excluded from a criminal case .
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Los Angeles law enforcement has tried to push the boundaries of these limits in some cases. For example, in United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, federal investigators seized far more data than authorized under the warrant. But the courts have generally tried to reign in overbroad searches to protect privacy.

Criticisms of Computer Searches in Los Angeles

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about Los Angeles law enforcement’s use of computer searches. Some key criticisms include:

  • Police rely on boilerplate search warrant templates that lack specificity .
  • Judges often grant warrants without scrutinizing their scope or necessity .
  • Searches can access huge amounts of irrelevant private information .

There are concerns these practices violate the particularity requirement for warrants under the Fourth Amendment. Some reform advocates have called for stricter judicial oversight and narrower search protocols.

Defenses to Challenge Computer Searches

If you are subject to a questionable computer search in Los Angeles, there are legal defenses you can raise:

  • Motion to suppress – Argue the search violated your Fourth Amendment rights and the evidence should be excluded .
  • Invalid warrant – Challenge whether there was probable cause for the warrant or if it lacked specificity .
  • Scope violation – Argue investigators exceeded the authorized scope of the search warrant .

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help analyze the specifics of your case and identify potential defenses. It’s important to assert your rights against unlawful searches.

Balancing Privacy and Public Safety

Computer searches involve balancing fundamental privacy rights with law enforcement’s duty to investigate crimes. There is still debate around where to strike the right balance. Reform advocates argue for stronger judicial oversight and narrower searches to protect civil liberties. Meanwhile, police argue broader search powers can help them catch dangerous criminals.

Recent cases suggest courts are trying to strike a balance – upholding computer searches under warrant, but with procedures to protect privacy. How this issue evolves will depend on an ongoing public debate between privacy and security concerns. As technology gives the government greater access to private data, citizens must remain vigilant in defending their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches.


[1] Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Searches and Seizures”

[2] Cornell Law School, “Fourth Amendment”

[3] United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing (9th Cir. 2009)

[4] United States v. Ganias (2nd Cir. 2015)

[5] Facebook v. Superior Court (Cal. 2020)

[6] Shouse California Law Group, “Fourth Amendment”

Justia, “Search and Seizure FAQ”

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Justia, “Suppression of Evidence”

ACLU SoCal, “Stingray” Report

ACLU SoCal Press Release on Cell Phone Tracking

EFF, “Riley v. California”

Shouse California Law Group, “Motion to Suppress Evidence”