Cops Given Wide Berth to Uncover Child Porn Files

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Sufficiently descriptive names attached to computer files suspected of containing child pornography can establish probable cause for a search warrant without requiring investigators to actually view the file, the 3rd Circuit ruled.




     A Pennsylvania man charged with possessing child pornography tried to suppress evidence of his computer activity by arguing that search warrant had been issued without probable cause. Last week, a federal appeals court upheld the government’s position that investigating officers can support an affidavit of probable cause for a search warrant without actually having viewed the contents of a suspicious file.
     “The title of the computer file at issue contained highly graphic references to specific sexual acts involving children,” obviating the need for the file’s contents to be downloaded and viewed, Judge Richard Nygaard wrote for the court’s three-judge panel.
     While the affidavit may have been “inartfully drafted” and unclear as to whether any officers had actually seen the file’s contents, “the file name refers to the ages of the children (‘6yo’ and ‘7yo’) and to graphic sexual activities (‘little norwegian angels stroke their erect clits’),” the court found. (Parentheses in original.)
     “The unmistakable inference arising from this highly descriptive file name is that the file’s contents include material pertaining to the sexual exploitation of children,” Nygaard wrote.
     While sole reliance on a filename is not ideal, the court found that the indication it gives about the file’s contents can be sufficient.
     “A file’s name may certainly be explicit and detailed enough so as to permit a reasonable inference of what the file is likely to depict,” Nygaard wrote.
     But a file’s name isn’t always helpful in determining what it contains, “especially where the file name contains a term or name that is commonplace or otherwise capable of different interpretations,” the court acknowledged.
     “It remains the better practice for an applicant seeking a warrant based on images of alleged child pornography to append the images or to provide a description of the images sufficient to enable the magistrate to determine independently whether probable cause exists,” Nygaard wrote.

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