Monday, March 19, 2012

Magistrate addresses pretrial release conditions on Twitter, IRCs, and monitoring

A federal magistrate in California recently addressed several interesting conditions of pretrial release such as having no access to Twitter and deleting Internet history. United States v. Collins, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35980 (N.D. Cal. 2012). The 14 defendants in the case are alleged members of Anonymous who executed a DDoS attack on PayPal's website after the site terminated WikiLeak's account.

At their initial appearance, the defendants were released after agreeing to these conditions:

  1. not participate in or accessing Internet Relay Chats ("IRCs"); 
  2. not use or access Twitter; 
  3. designate the computer or computers that would be used while on release; 
  4. not delete any internet history; and 
  5. make available any designated computer for inspection by Pretrial Services
In a dispute over the fifth condition, the court found that inspection via a software installation on the defendants' computers was appropriate. A defendant argued that use of a USB drive with "Fieldsearch" was less intrusive, but the court found that it may delegate to Pretrial Services the decision to use "Fieldsearch, hardware installation of an alternative program, or manual searching - so long as it ... is 'reasonably calculated to fulfill' the purpose of the condition."

The court upheld the restriction to IRCs but not with Twitter. The defendants argued the conditions deprive them of free speech such as with President Obama's Twitter Town Halls. The court found that some constitutional rights may be intruded upon as reasonably necessary, and as IRCs were specifically addressed by the indictment, the condition was proper. Further, their ability to access e-mail, Tumblr, chatrooms, and Facebook provided a reasonable balance. Twitter, however, was not mentioned in the indictment, and that activity can easily be monitored.

One of the defendants was found to have had virus software "that [had] deleted the computer's internet history in order to restore the computer's performance." The court modified the fourth condition to specify that "intentional" (as opposed to inadvertent) deletion is prohibited.

The government was also instructed "to give back to defendants data outside the scope of the warrants" as they have "no claim to [it]."


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