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The Plain View Doctrine and Computer Searches: Balancing Law Enforcement’s Investigatory Needs With Privacy Rights in the Digital Age
By David H. Angeli, Christina Schuck
The police suspected Montgomery Gray of hacking into the National
Library of Medicine’s (NLM) computer system at the National Institute of
Health. They obtained a warrant to search his computer for NLM
documents and “hacker” materials, including certain computer source
code. Following departmental computer search protocol, the searching
agent methodically opened each and every file on Gray’s computer,
including image files in a directory titled “Teen.” Within this folder,
the agent found numerous images of child pornography, leading him to
secure a second warrant authorizing a search for child pornography. In
Gray’s subsequent prosecution for possession of child pornography, the
court denied Gray’s motion to suppress the images, holding that (1)
pursuant to the original warrant, the agent was entitled to examine all
the files in the computer to determine whether they contained items
falling within the scope of that warrant, and (2) based upon this broad
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