Google-Flagged Child Porn Case Highlights Privacy Issues

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A Ninth Circuit case concerning images that Alphabet Inc.’s Google flagged as possible child pornography highlights challenges for courts grappling with privacy protections for law enforcement searches of digital communications, reports Bloomberg News. The case, United States v. Wilson, questioned whether a warrant was needed under the Fourth Amendment to search flagged images found in defendant Luke Wilson’s email account.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Sept. 21 that investigators in San Diego should have sought a warrant before viewing the images and acting on the tip. Other courts, including the Fifth and Sixth Circuits, have let law enforcement officials review suspected child pornography without a warrant because their review confirmed the accuracy of the flags. The San Diego law enforcement task force at issue in Wilson’s case has since changed its policy so that it obtains a warrant before automatically flagged images are viewed, according to the Ninth Circuit opinion. The ruling could prompt other law enforcement agencies to rethink their procedures for investigating child sexual abuse online.

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