War on drugs might promote sneak computer searches

CESA resurrected

Provisions enabling the Feds to conduct secret searches, primarily in cases of suspected cyber-crimes, are being interlaced with several bills pending before Congress, the Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT) noted in e-mail correspondence with Hacker News Network.

Last year the Feds abandoned a most Draconian bill called the Cyberspace Electronic Security Act (CESA) after unflattering media attention made it untenable. Now, hard-line law-and-order proponents on Capitol Hill are weaving several of its most objectionable provisions into other proposed legislation.

A methamphetamine bill due for markup by the House Judiciary Committee includes language that could authorise secret searches in ordinary criminal cases, CDT says.

"The amendment would serve the same purpose as the secret search provision in the discredited earlier draft of the Administration's CESA bill," CDT notes.

Normal practice for serving a search warrant requires the police to knock and announce their intentions, and leave a receipt for all items seized.

Knock and announce requirements are sometimes waived when there is evidence that the subjects of a search are likely to resist violently or could quickly flush the desired evidence. The no-knock warrant is often accompanied by a 'dynamic entry' in which a cluster of police kick the door and rush within hooting and howling at the tops of their voices. This performance bewilders the subjects and reduces their likelihood of resisting violently.

But the concern here is not that warrants will be served in the Cabaret manner just described, but would be used to allow the Feds to sneak in to a subject's residence or place of business and gather evidence without their knowledge.

The amendment in Section 16/310 of the Meth bill would allow an initial delay of up to 90 days before the subjects of a sneak and peek warrant were notified that evidence had been gathered. The concern, obviously, is that this delay might diminish their ability to mount an effective defence in court.

"It is possible for the government to copy a great deal of sensitive evidence without disturbing anything and without the subject knowing," CDT notes.

Further details are available on the Hacker News Network Web site. ®

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