No Warrant Required to Obtain Web Address Subscriber Information

by | September 30, 2016

DEA agents located a web address offering a precursor ingredient for ecstasy. The agents issued a subpoena for the service provider, seeking the subscriber’s name and address and the account login history for the address. The service provider complied. Investigation led the agents to Caira. He was ultimately charged with possessing and conspiring to manufacture illegal drugs.

Caira claimed that the agents were required to obtain a search warrant to get his internet protocol address and login history. Caira asserted that the traditional third-party doctrine (meaning that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in records voluntarily shared with a third party) is outdated and doesn’t fit the reality of modern web communications. The court disagreed: “Because Caira voluntarily shared his I.P. addresses … he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in those addresses. So the DEA committed no Fourth Amendment ‘search’ when it subpoenaed that information.” The court also rejected Caira’s claim that he didn’t voluntarily disclose information to his service provider; rather, he argued, the company “captured” his IP address every time he checked his account.

Caira also claimed that the information was improperly obtained because of the sheer volume of information collected by the DEA. Caira referenced United States v. Jones (132 S.Ct. 945 (2012)), in which the Supreme Court held that “the attachment of a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device to an individual’s vehicle, and subsequent use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements on public streets,” constituted a Fourth Amendment search. In her concurring opinion in United States v. Jones, Justice Sotomayor suggested that the time has come to re-examine Fourth Amendment analysis, which seems “ill suited to the digital age.” Though the Court is certain to further explore the intersection of digital technology and the Fourth Amendment, no clear direction has begun to emerge.

Caira will have plenty of time to consider future Fourth Amendment developments in the Supreme Court: He later tried to have the prosecutor and DEA agent murdered, and for that, he was sentenced to life in prison.

United States v. Caira, 2016 WL 4376472 (7th Cir. 2016)

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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