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Work employee about to have her computer searched

Can the Police Search Your Work Computer for Child Pornography?

Published: Oct 08, 2019 in Child Sex Crimes, Sex Crimes Involving Children

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limits law enforcement’s power to arrest suspects, search people and property, and seize objects and contraband (such as child pornography). How much legal process is needed before something can be searched is generally driven by how much privacy you should legitimately expect in the situation.

If your employer owns your computer, you shouldn’t expect privacy because it’s not yours. The police, generally, should be given access if your employer consents. Whether your employer should force law enforcement to get a search warrant would be its decision. However, if you own the computer but use it at work, your expectation of privacy would be higher, and police should obtain a search warrant before accessing your computer.

If you’re accused of possessing child pornography in Houston, and police are attempting to search the devices you have access to, it is time to contact a highly skilled sex crimes attorney at The Law Offices of Ned Barnett. Call (713) 222-6767 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

Protections Against Unreasonable Searches

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This protects against “unreasonable” searches and seizures by state or federal authorities. Reasonable searches and seizures are permitted.

Generally, the police may override your privacy concerns and search your computer if:

  • They have probable cause to believe they can find evidence that you committed a crime, and a judge issues a warrant, or
  • The particular situation justifies a search without a warrant

You have Fourth Amendment protection in these circumstances if you have a “legitimate expectation of privacy” in your work computer. If not, there is no protection because there are no privacy issues.

How Much Privacy Should You Expect?

Courts normally look at these protections by using a two-part test to decide if, at the time of the search, a person had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the place or things searched:

  • Subjective: Did the person actually expect some degree of privacy?
  • Objective: Is the expectation objectively reasonable, one that society is willing to recognize?

If you bought a computer and use it at home, you probably expect some degree of privacy and society would probably agree.

If you use a computer at work, owned by your employer, especially one that explicitly tells you they can search it at any time (as many do), you probably don’t expect any privacy. But even if you did, that expectation wouldn’t be objectively reasonable.

Many employers allow or expect employees to use their own electronic devices, including computers, and they’re carried back and forth from home to work and back. If you own and use it, at least partially, for your own, personal needs, you would have a strong argument the police should not search it without a warrant.

Police may seize your computer, but shouldn’t search its contents, without a warrant, if they have reason to believe it’s necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence contained in it for a criminal case (including possession of child pornography).

Call a Lawyer if Your Work Computer Might be Searched

Child pornography arrests nearly always involve a search by law enforcement because they need to prove the accused possessed illegal material. However, if a search was done improperly, the evidence may be excluded, and the charges may be dropped.

If you’ve been arrested — or are under investigation — for child pornography, you need an experienced attorney who knows the law and where to look for mistakes, so your rights are protected. Attorney Ned Barnett is a seasoned sex crime attorney with extensive experience in defending these kinds of cases involving people like you.

To learn more about your options when facing child pornography charges, contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett by calling (713) 222-6767 and schedule a free consultation.