Search and Seizure

Restrictions on Electronic Searches Approved by VT Supreme Court

Heads off fishing expeditions

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The Vermont Supreme Court gave electronic privacy a big boost this morning when it approved restrictions placed upon police when conducting searches of electronic devices.

The case originated when police in Burlington, Vermont were investigating a report of a person applying for credit cards online using someone else's identity. Once the police narrowed the investigation to a street address where they thought the perpetrator might live, they asked a judge to issue a search warrant for "all computers or electronic media" located in the house—even though the house had multiple residents.

The judge issued the search warrant, but was wary about approving such a broad search of computers, iPads, and other devices. So he imposed a number of restrictions on the search, including that the police could only look for evidence relating to the alleged identity theft, had to turn the devices over to a third party to conduct the search, and would not be permitted to prosecute a suspect based upon evidence of other crimes found on the devices.