In an effort to halt cybercrime that endangers young children, federal agents have trampled on basic privacy protections, attorneys argued in a Houston courtroom, joining a nationwide consortium of defense lawyers fighting a sweeping federal investigation, the Houston Chronicle reports. They’re questioning whether federal agents had the right to seize computers – and gigabytes of incriminating evidence – in Texas and elsewhere that were used to access a dark web server based in Virginia. A lawyer for a man accused of downloading child pornography from the dark website contended that the FBI overstepped its bounds in the 2015 sting, which nabbed 200 defendants nationwide.
FBI officials say the seizure was legal, approved by a search warrant from a federal magistrate that ultimately led agents to visitors to the website. It is critical, they say, to fighting cybercrime. Nationally, defense lawyers have prevailed in about one quarter of the requests seeking to suppress or exclude evidence from the 2015 sting, according to a lawyer in Washington state who is coordinating the consortium. The wrangling centers on a vital frontier in Fourth Amendment cases, experts said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has on occasion been very surprising with how they deal with electronic searches and things of this nature,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and defense lawyer who heads the criminal law program at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania. “This is one of the hottest areas of the law, trying to determine the question of standing in the electronic age and who has privacy in these kinds of searches and scenarios.