(CN) – An 11-judge panel for the 9th Circuit on Monday overturned its own prior ruling that placed major stipulations on the government’s search and seizure powers of computer hard drives.
The 9-2 ruling voided guidelines that were designed to protect Fourth Amendment privacy rights during court-authorized computer searches. The panel overturned the prior decision at the request of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, responding to complaints that prosecutions had become too difficult.
The case originated in 2004 with an investigation by federal prosecutors into a California Major League Baseball steroid ring that led to the copying of directory spreadsheets that had the results of drug tests for every player who had been tested.
In its original ruling, the panel prohibited the government from copying entire hard drives and allowed the confiscation of only specific data described in a search warrant. If that wasn’t possible, the government had to enlist the help of a third party who, under the court’s supervision, would sift through the files to find specific information.
If the government refused to consent to the rules, the requested search warrant would be denied.
The government argued that the evidence qualified as a “plain sight” finding, similar to finding drugs or firearms on a table during a raid.
The new ruling does not allow the government to use evidence that stretches beyond the scope of a warrant, but the ruling opens up the previously narrowed guidelines to which the Obama administration objected.