Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Too Stupid to use a Password

In a recent case, US v. Barrows, the defendant asserted that he had a privacy interest in his personal computer that he brought to his workplace at a small city hall in Oklahoma.

He left the computer unattended without password protection or any other type of security. This makes him a moron because he had downloaded child pornography onto his computer, and guess what, a police officer found it.

Read the whole opinion, if you're interested. |PDF|


dr said...

So, what, it's okay for a cop to open up my laptop and start going through the files? Suppose that I left a journal on my desk, is it okay to go through that as well?

Safety Neal said...

The legal test is whether you've a reasonable expectation of privacy. Actually, the test is whether the judge thinks there is a reasonable expectation of privacy and whether the judge thinks your actions manifest this sense of privacy.

What Barrows did was to act in such a flagrant manner that the judges decided he did not feel his laptop was private.

If you read the facts of the case, Mr. Barrows brought his personal laptop into his workplace (he is a city government employee), hooked his laptop into the city's network, and left it idle and unprotected in a public area.

You closed journal on your desk at home seems quite different.

dr said...

What about my closed journal at work? I expect that my co-workers won't go through items on my desk, or that if they do it is with a business purpose (and therefore carrying my implicit authorization).

Safety Neal said...

In the Barrows case, accessing the computer was work-related. The police officer was a former computer salesman and was trying to troubleshoot a problem with the workgroup of the file-sharing computers.

He opened up the file-sharing program with the child [sic]pr0n[/sic] presumably because he thought it might be interfering with the workgroup (not sure if it was a network or just a workgroup from the facts in the court's syllabus.)

Since journals don't generally interfere with file-sharing or municipal networks, that rationale would not be available in the case of a co-worker perusing your journal.