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EFF Weighs in on Computer Privacy Case

ScuttleMonkey posted about 9 years ago | from the what-will-they-think-of-next dept.

Privacy 564

An anonymous reader writes "A case on appeal to the Washington State Court of Appeals, State v. Westbrook, recently drew the attention of the EFF. They argue that: "citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their computers, and that their Fourth Amendment rights don't disappear when a computer is delivered to a technician for servicing." This ruling could threaten to 'turn your friendly neighborhood computer repair technician into a government informer' "

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I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (2, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | about 9 years ago | (#13341155)

"Customers who drop off their computers for servicing reasonably expect that their private data won't be handed over to the police without a warrant," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.

This is completely agree with. Law enforcement should always have to get a warrant to search a computer unless we're talking about something like blatant kiddie porn as the desktop's background (and no, a picture of your child taking a bath doesn't qualify).

I have a feeling that the Gateway technician shouldn't have been poking around on the person's computer as it's doubtful that the files were of any direct relation to the problem.

It's a sad state of affairs when we have to discuss this and have the EFF come to the rescue. There is rarely ever a reason when LEOs should have the rights to look at anything w/o a warrant. Welcome to Scaredays 2005 people :(

"Allowing computer technicians to snoop on people's private data is like putting surveillance cameras in dressing rooms. The violation of so many people's privacy far outweighs any benefits that might be gained.

This I disagree with. While I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store). My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism. I do however have an equal weight with regards to my feelings about public spaces being spied upon.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (4, Funny)

Kevin DeGraaf (220791) | about 9 years ago | (#13341184)

I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store)

Well, now we know who works as a department store security guard...

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (4, Insightful)

kevin_conaway (585204) | about 9 years ago | (#13341191)

My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism.

Do you have a daughter or a wife? Would you like a bunch of random teenage employees at the local Gap watching her everytime she tried on a piece of clothing?

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1, Insightful)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 9 years ago | (#13341239)

The relevant point here is whether the presence of the cameras is disclosed *before* a patron is under their surveilence.

If the store is upfront about it, then I see no problem...shop somewhere else.


Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 years ago | (#13341268)

But you know that sooner or later every store will have cameras and you won't have a choice. What'll you do then?

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (3, Interesting)

ThosLives (686517) | about 9 years ago | (#13341339)

You have several options:
1. Don't shop at (those) stores at all.
2. Don't use dressing rooms and measure the clothing with some other means.
3. Buy clothes, take them home and try them on, then return them if they don't fit.
4. Make your own clothes. (This could even lead to "profit!!!")
5. Hire a tailor to make clothes for you.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341353)

Place my sock over the camera lens if possible. If its out of reach or the store does not allow it, I would bring a large sheet or tarp to provide cover while I changed.

Duh.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (2, Insightful)

melonriel (832441) | about 9 years ago | (#13341363)

Not try things on before buying them? Or maybe buy them online? No one is forcing you to try anything on when buying clothes. If someone cares greatly about this sort of thing, they could always buy clothes, try them on at home and take them back. A bit awkward and time-consuming, but possible. I highly doubt there will be cameras in ALL dressing rooms in the future, anyways.

There's always a choice (1)

QMO (836285) | about 9 years ago | (#13341387)

Start your own store? (The prices will have to be higher, because someone will have to pay for the shoplifting.)
Make your own clothes. (Though you can't make them as cheaply someone in China can.)
Know your size before you shop? (Then there's the problem with vanity sizing, mostly with women's clothing. Sweats and T-shirts should still be OK.)
Bring a measuring tape? (But, then you'd have to teach yourself what and how to measure.)
Somehow build a successful grassroots effort that makes dishonesty no longer socially acceptable, thus decreasing the likelyhood that that cameras in dressing rooms save more than they cost. (That would be extremely difficult, but would have a LOT of side benefits.)

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (3, Insightful)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 9 years ago | (#13341340)

How the Evil is Done [rollingstone.com]

Sensenbrenner is your basic Fat Evil Prick, perfectly cast as a dictatorial committee chairman: He has the requisite moist-with-sweat pink neck, the dour expression, the penchant for pointless bile and vengefulness.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (2, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | about 9 years ago | (#13341246)

Do you have a daughter or a wife? Would you like a bunch of random teenage employees at the local Gap watching her everytime she tried on a piece of clothing?

I will be married in less than a month. I would expect that their theft prevention team would be staffed by the appropriate sex as to observe that -- and most places that do have cameras note that on a large sign that you can read before you go in.

Remember, any place you shop (including ones w/cameras) is *your* choice. I choose not to give business to many different stores for many different reasons. If you have a problem w/cameras in the dressing rooms don't shop there or don't try on their clothes.

*EVERYONE* should be far more concerned w/the cameras at stop lights, intersections, lamp posts (traffic patterns my ass), etc.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

Cerv (711134) | about 9 years ago | (#13341313)

and most places that do have cameras note that on a large sign that you can read before you go in.

Hang on, are you saying that there exist stores with cameras in the dressing rooms? And some of them don't even have notice of this?

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

garcia (6573) | about 9 years ago | (#13341338)

Hang on, are you saying that there exist stores with cameras in the dressing rooms?

Yes. Welcome to 2005.

And some of them don't even have notice of this?

I couldn't possibly speak for all stores that have cameras in their dressing areas so I said "most places".

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341332)

staffed by the appropriate sex

What about sexual orientation? What if the same-sex watchers are same-sex attracted? What about bisexuals, are they not allowed to work as security camera monitors at all?

That's it, we will just have to bring back eunuchs.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (4, Funny)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | about 9 years ago | (#13341259)

Umm- this could save the gap a lot of money- Instead of paying security guards, I know a ton of people who would pay to be security guards. Especially at one of those Gaps by a college campus...
"Work at the gap, see a gap!!!"

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (2, Insightful)

Cerv (711134) | about 9 years ago | (#13341265)

The first clothing shop to put cameras in the dressing rooms would never survive the sudden, massive drop in sales and PR disaster. It's not going to happen so you don't really need to worry about it.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (4, Interesting)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | about 9 years ago | (#13341202)

C'mon, who expects their stuff to be private when they allow another to look at their box. If you take your car in to be serviced, and the service has nothing to do with opening the truck, but the auto tech opens the trunk and finds 20 Keys of Coke, you are getting busted.
If you take a book in to be rebound, and you have terrorist plans written in the margins, you are going to get reported.
It seems that computers are finally entering more common law... This isn't new territory or a new rule, just a new rule as it applies to computers.
It would be interesting to hear someone try and define "in plain view" as far as the folder structure of a machine goes.
In all honesty- every time I use someone else's box, I search for images. Doesn't everyone? I won't lie, I am hoping that they have some homemade porn on there of their wifey.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (4, Insightful)

einhverfr (238914) | about 9 years ago | (#13341304)

In each of these cases, the police would have to go through the steps of getting a warrant before doing any further searches, which they most certainly would do.

It isn't the technician-turned-informant that many of us have an issue with. It si the fact that the Police didn't feel that they needed to go through the steps of actually obtaining a search warrant. Here in the US, these processes are supposed to have judicial oversight, though the trend these days is for the Congress and the Executive to ignore these requirements. THe courts are trying to reign it in (we will see how long before portions of the USAPATRIOT act are struck down in multiple circuits.

No, IANAL.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

over_exposed (623791) | about 9 years ago | (#13341305)

As a former best buy tech, yes. That's not the point though. I've actually reported customers for child porn because they asked me to do a data backup. As I was queueing the files for DVD burn, I saw a lot of... interesting file names go acrosss. I showed my boss, he showed the manager, we called the cops.

I don't know the circumstances of this case the EFF is barking about, but if the technician runs across something by doing common tasks, then for God's sake, they should report them.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (3, Insightful)

dal20402 (895630) | about 9 years ago | (#13341315)

In all honesty- every time I use someone else's box, I search for images. Doesn't everyone? I won't lie, I am hoping that they have some homemade porn on there of their wifey.

While I don't have a wife (what do you expect on /. ?) and therefore don't have hawt wife pr0n, this kind of attitude is exactly why no one uses my boxes, even for one minute, without a new account being created for them. I've learned that people love to read private email and dig through document folders.

And if it goes in for service, the drive is backed up to an external and erased first.

I just don't understand it... I'd feel dirty about looking through someone else's private stuff... but I'm apparently the only one.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (2, Interesting)

ZeissIcon (67281) | about 9 years ago | (#13341359)

The core issue here is the presence of a search warrant. IANAL, but my understanding is that if you have 20 kilos in the trunk of your car, and a service technician spots them, that falls under the "probable cause" clause under which the cops can search your car. If your plumber calls the cops and says, "I think my client has a meth lab in his basement," the cops would have to provide a judge with enough evidence to obtain a warrant to search your house.

The question here is: which category is your computer in? The EFF says it's on the house side of the equation. The entire reason cops can search your car is that you agree to it when you are issued a driver's license; driving is considered a voluntary practice, and as such you are required to give up some of your 4th ammendment rights in order to do it. Taking your computer to a repair shop in no way alters your relationship with law enforcement -- you have not agreed to the suspension of your rights. Thus, it requires a warrant. To whit, your terrorism example, the cops would still have to acquire a warrant to search your house and many judges would be hesitant to issue one since writing in the margins of a book is clearly a protected 1st ammendment right. On the other hand, the cops might bring you in and ask you some questions, and they are perfectly entitled to do so.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

oriole1 (908050) | about 9 years ago | (#13341379)

C'mon, who expects their stuff to be private when they allow another to look at their box. If you take your car in to be serviced, and the service has nothing to do with opening the truck, but the auto tech opens the trunk and finds 20 Keys of Coke, you are getting busted.

Actually, I seem to recall just that kind of thing being declared an illegal search by courts. I don't remember the specifics, but it went something like this: Guy gets pulled over for speeding. Cop opens the trunk (why? well, there's the whole issue) and finds pot. Now the speeder gets to go to jail for possession. The whole issue came down to probable cause. In the case I remember, the court found that the police did not have reason to search the trunk, since it was a routine traffic stop.

Another variant that I've heard pop up lately has been the use of drug-sniffing dogs during routine traffic stops or roadblocks. Here, the dog goes nuts at one guy's trunk, so the cops declare they now have probable cause to search the vehicle. Now the question is: does the use of dogs in the first place qualify as a search, and if so, what reason is given for the dog-sniff-search?

If you take a book in to be rebound, and you have terrorist plans written in the margins, you are going to get reported.

I'm not sure someone can argue the expectation of privacy for the margins of a publicly-owned library book.

It would be interesting to hear someone try and define "in plain view" as far as the folder structure of a machine goes.

I think it is quite reasonable to expect privacy in something that is privately owned. If the offending material (like the child pornography on the desktop somebody mentioned earlier) is immediately apparent, privacy cannot be assumed. But it not reasonable that a routine computer repair be turned into a full-blown search for illegal materials, when any results will be given to law enforcement.


BTW, if anybody has info on the specifics of the car-searching case(s) I've mentioned above, please share!

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (4, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 9 years ago | (#13341421)

Very insightful comment. But also very scary.
In all honesty- every time I use someone else's box, I search for images. Doesn't everyone? I won't lie, I am hoping that they have some homemade porn on there of their wifey.
I hope you were kidding. I do computer repair, and I take certain steps to make sure I never accidentally open the "My Documents" or "My Pictures" folders unless I need to. If I hired you to fix a customer's computer and I discovered you did that, I would fire you.

The really really scary part of this is where you say "Doesn't everyone?" as though you think this was the norm! Are you not even aware that what you are doing is unethical? It also happens to be bad for business, so you should be careful that no one finds out. I just now noticed the irony that you started that statement with "In all honesty-".

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341205)

Knock off the karma whoring, Garcia. Moderators, please don't let this empty feel good fluff comment get rated +5 Insightful.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

utopianfiat (774016) | about 9 years ago | (#13341212)

You just can't help but picture your local security guard going into the camera room with a beer and a bag of popcorn.

*fap* oh shit she's stealing something!

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (3, Insightful)

TiggertheMad (556308) | about 9 years ago | (#13341223)

I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store).

When the goverment is granted survelance powers over a population, it inevitabily abuses them. Why would you expect a private company to behave any differently?

More to the point, how is it any different if you are spied upon on private property as oppoesd to public property? You are still being spied on.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

garcia (6573) | about 9 years ago | (#13341267)

In the future please read and comprehend what I say:

My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism.

I cannot possibly control what a private company does with their property (i.e. add cameras for theft prevention). I can choose not to be a patron.

I *can*, however, use my weight as a citizen to push for no cameras in the public space as I have just as much right as anyone else.

I demand private sector privacy (1)

TiggertheMad (556308) | about 9 years ago | (#13341375)

I cannot possibly control what a private company does with their property...

BZZZT! Thankyouforplaying, but you lose!

If you don't like the fact you are being spied upon on private property, you *can* use your weight as a citizen to push for laws against survelance in private space. Because you accept that as the status quo, it will reamin that way.

In the future please try to be less stupid.

Re:I demand private sector privacy (1)

garcia (6573) | about 9 years ago | (#13341417)

If you don't like the fact you are being spied upon on private property, you *can* use your weight as a citizen to push for laws against survelance in private space. Because you accept that as the status quo, it will reamin that way.

Excuse me? I'm stupid? For standing up for what I believe in? I don't believe that I have a right to infringe on the rights of others to do as they fucking please with their OWN property.

It's really sad when someone thinks that *more* legislation is a good thing.

What you need to do, if you don't like something, is to stop going to that store and to tell others not to go there either (and why). If enough people agree that the benefits don't outweigh the negative aspects then they go out of business.

Problem solved w/o more time wasted in the courts creating unnecessary legislation for something that we shouldn't be attempting to control.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 years ago | (#13341230)

This I disagree with. While I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store). My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism. I do however have an equal weight with regards to my feelings about public spaces being spied upon.
That's ridiculous! Privacy is (or, at least, should be) a fundamental right. Saying it's okay for people to spy on you just because they're not the government is as absurd as saying they're allowed to rob you or beat you or kill you.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

Diego_27182818 (174390) | about 9 years ago | (#13341250)

"Allowing computer technicians to snoop on people's private data is like putting surveillance cameras in dressing rooms. The violation of so many people's privacy far outweighs any benefits that might be gained.

This I disagree with. While I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store). My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism. I do however have an equal weight with regards to my feelings about public spaces being spied upon.

That seems kind of backwards - you would rather have video cameras up where video can be taken of you in various states of undress, than have video cameras up in public space.

While in public I have no expectation of privacy, and I have no problems with the multiple traffic cameras that record me on my way to work. But if I found out that a store had installed cameras in the dressing room, not only would I never shop there again, but I would raise hell over it to make sure no one else ever shopped there either.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

saider (177166) | about 9 years ago | (#13341253)

I'm curious why you do not want video cameras in public, where anyone with eyeballs can observe and document your behavior, but yet as soon as we close the door, and expect some privacy, we lose that privacy. Why is it not OK to monitor public spaces?

A store may be within its rights to place cameras in dressing rooms, but I think they would suffer more from lost business than from the theft they are preventing. They would also expose themselves to lawsuits when the dressing room footage ended up on the internet.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

garcia (6573) | about 9 years ago | (#13341317)

I'm curious why you do not want video cameras in public, where anyone with eyeballs can observe and document your behavior, but yet as soon as we close the door, and expect some privacy, we lose that privacy. Why is it not OK to monitor public spaces?

I want *REAL TIME* *HUMAN* eye-coverage. That's why. Speeding cameras, red-light cameras, etc are all inappropriate extensions of police states.

If we cannot afford to staff enough people to catch the violaters then tough.

People being told that they have no expectation of privacy in public and then allowing that to be stretched to include cameras really need to think hard about their desire to have Big Brother watching over them.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

BaronVonServers (908334) | about 9 years ago | (#13341275)

With regard to the PC files: If the files' contents where readily visible to the tech (he didn't have to break any encryption), and appeared to indicate children were being abused, he had a duty to report, and we as a society have a duty to act. A person's right to be safe in their persons and papers doesn't mean I'm not supposed to call the law if I see a person raping some child in the rapist's living room . With regard to the 'Spy Cam' in a private business. A spy cam owned and operated by a private company scares me even more than one operated by a governmental body, and I'm be tempted to take up arms of the Gov't wanted to film me going to potty at the courthouse. The local clothing store can spend the money to hire some one to observe what I take into the chaning room and what I bring out, NOT to observe me IN the changing room.

You're being paranoid (1)

BlackCobra43 (596714) | about 9 years ago | (#13341285)

While I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store). My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism. I do however have an equal weight with regards to my feelings about public spaces being spied upon.

Oh come on. When you're outside, PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU. Imagine that. You have NO expectation of privacy outside of your property. Public MICROPHONES I could understand, as it allows people to understand what they normally couldn`t - i.e. a private discourse between two people. But cameras? Ridiculous.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

hungrygrue (872970) | about 9 years ago | (#13341334)

This I disagree with. While I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store). My feelings for personal privacy have no weight in a privately owned store that is using video cameras as a theft prevention mechanism. I do however have an equal weight with regards to my feelings about public spaces being spied upon.
Could you explain this position a bit? I personally have far less of an issue with cameras in public places simply because they ARE public places. Very simply, any action which you choose to perform in public view is essentially public record and you have no right to expect any protection of privacy to include that which you make public. This isn't really a question of privacy, it is one of accountability. In private places, the case is much different. It is a violation of privacy simply because the victom has reason to expect privacy. Put another way, if the dressing rooms were plastered with signs stating that customers were being watched on a closed circuit television, far fewer people would actually USE these dressing rooms therefore such monitoring would have to be done in secret. If there were cameras in the park, however, very few people would be bothered enough to avoid the park. I would still take my daughter to feed the ducks regardless of whether the only observers were other people in the vicinity or included extremely bored security personel in an office somewhere.

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341411)

"...blatant kiddie porn as the desktop's background (and no, a picture of your child taking a bath doesn't qualify)."


what if it's my neighbor's kid taking a bath... and she's 16? does that qualify?

Re:I demand privacy but not in the private sector! (1)

keraneuology (760918) | about 9 years ago | (#13341423)

I am 100% against video cameras in the PUBLIC space I am not against video cameras in a private space (i.e. dressing rooms of a store).

Why? What possible expectation do you have for privacy in public? Do you object to news teams setting up video cameras to film a public event or only fixed cameras? While in public anything visible to the public is fair game, be that behavior or the T-Shirt that reads "I am a terrorist but because I am in public you have no right to read my shirt".

While on private property I say that any disclosed filming is acceptable. I have an issue with hidden cameras in dressing rooms, but if there is a sign that clearly reads "These dressing rooms are monitored by pimply 19 year olds who would rather monitor you than be turned down for a date yet again by that redheaded girl in cosmetics" then by all means. I would personally shop elsewhere, but that's irrelevant.

Attention Apple Fags! (0, Offtopic)

Asshat Canada (804093) | about 9 years ago | (#13341195)

Don't forget to snap your thin gay dicks in the lids of your $50 stampede iBooks!

Newsflash : EFF pro-privacy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341198)

This is news?

How about encrypting your important files... (4, Insightful)

joelparker (586428) | about 9 years ago | (#13341201)

...before you hand over your computer and login to a complete stranger?

Re:How about encrypting your important files... (1)

utopianfiat (774016) | about 9 years ago | (#13341243)

I'm wondering if this isn't better linked to 4chan, where people should actually be WORRIED about being caught with child porn.

Re:How about encrypting your important files... (1)

thegamerformelyknown (868463) | about 9 years ago | (#13341252)

The problem with this is some times your computer crashes or something and you cannot get to the actual files to encrypt them.

Or you forget.

Or you are an average Joe Blow who doesn't know how to ecrypt his files.

Re:How about encrypting your important files... (1)

ornil (33732) | about 9 years ago | (#13341272)

Let us suppose you are savy enough to know about encryption and to find the right software. Suppose your computer breaks (e.g. won't boot up). How are you planning to encrypt the files now? (You are not paranoid enough to encrypt the files during normal use, nor do you want to open up the box - you aren't a PC hardware guy).

What's the old saying? (4, Interesting)

saskboy (600063) | about 9 years ago | (#13341203)

"This ruling could threaten to 'turn your friendly neighborhood computer repair technician into a government informer' "

Does the saying, "discretion is the better part of valour" meant anything to anyone these days? If I saw something extremely dangerous on a computer I'm fixing I'd probably say something weather or not there was a law forbidding me to. Likewise, if there's something technically illegal, but not likely to threaten the safety of anyone, I'm not going to go to any lengths to be a snitch. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, and all that.

What would the EFF want the technician to do? (3, Insightful)

KLFrosty (846763) | about 9 years ago | (#13341209)

Shut off the computer, and pretend he never saw the child pornography? He wasn't reading the defendant's diary looking for thought-crimes, folks.

Re:What would the EFF want the technician to do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341276)

I agree I seen kiddie porn in the process of trouble shooting a pc once few years ago as a tech I was disgusted. I mean If you that worried. Don't break laws. BTW Acidental Kiddie porn is almost inpossible. It takes work to find it and to dl it. This was in a folder in mydocs The reason i had to look there was there was a jpeg virus. I was not snooping i was doing my job...

Call me hipcrit i mean warez i leave that alone but kiddie porn i would prefer to beat the customer

Re:What would the EFF want the technician to do? (2, Insightful)

BannedfrompostingAC (799263) | about 9 years ago | (#13341295)

It's not what the technician should have done, but what the police should have done. They should have obtained a warrant to continue searching the computer. This is simply a matter of incorrect police procedures. Somebody guilty of a crime can walk away free from court on these sorts of technicalities.

Be smart (2, Interesting)

Pig Hogger (10379) | about 9 years ago | (#13341218)

Use at least TWO disk drives on your systems, one for data, the other for the system and software.

Configure temp directories and cache directories to use the second drive.

Better: at least, mount the second drive in a caddy which is removed whenever the system is shipped-out for servicing.

Better yet, remove the caddy and put it in a "safe" place whenever the computer is not being used, so in case of theft, you don't lose the data.

Lastly, if the system is shipped because it won't boot windoze, boot-up with Knoppix and delete all possible temporary files or cache directories.

Hmmmm, this could be something to do: kitbashing a boot Linux distribution that would ferret-out all cache and temporary directories and nuke them.

Re:Be smart (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341348)

Er.

If a user is doing all that, then it's reasonably likely that the user could fix his own computer.

Re:Be smart (1)

DarkDigger (643940) | about 9 years ago | (#13341349)

If the guy was capable of all that you just mentioned, he wouldn't have to take his computer to Gateway for repairs, now would he?

Re:Be smart (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341366)

Right, because after you rm -rf a file, the data is never, ever retrievable under any possible circumstance, even with dedicated equipment or something like the Coroner's Toolkit.
[/sarcastic]

Uh, if you were able to do all that... (1)

p3d0 (42270) | about 9 years ago | (#13341386)

...why would you need to send your system to someone else for servicing?

hmmm (2, Insightful)

meatbridge (443871) | about 9 years ago | (#13341420)

it doesn't sound like you need a computer repairman. if you can outsmart these watchful eyes than you probably don't even need a service like these. what about those who don't have any idea about how to go about creating knoppix disc, or have to send their computer to a repairman to install a second harddrive.

I've said it before... (-1, Flamebait)

E14577441 (908346) | about 9 years ago | (#13341221)

..and I'll say it again:

If you havn't got anything to hide then you don't have anything to worry about

Re:I've said it before... (1)

agent dero (680753) | about 9 years ago | (#13341240)

In Soviet Russia....you would be correct.

Innocent until proven guilty still applies in this country? Whatever happened to always presuming a man's innocence?

Re:I've said it before... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341316)

That is still true except in this case now the person has to prove how the child porn got on the computer in the first place.

This is a stupid discussion. In ANY situation, if you find something illegal is going on you report it.

There is no gray area here.

Re:I've said it before... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341261)

and that statement made you an idiot before and still makes you an idiot now

the only way you can prove otherwise is to post your home address and allow a local slashdotter to search it, i mean you dont have anything to hide do you?

Re:I've said it before... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341271)

So you won't mind me videotaping you when you're on the loo? After all, you have nothing to hide. Also, I guess you don't mind if I shoot you in the head a few times when you try to run away from the police. If you didn't have anything to hide, you wouldn't have run.

Re:I've said it before... (1)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | about 9 years ago | (#13341309)

That is only true until they redefine what needs to be hidden. (Or, more correctly, what they want tob be able to hold against you.)

Re:I've said it before... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 9 years ago | (#13341333)

If you havn't got anything to hide then you don't have anything to worry about

Then, frankly speaking, you are a very boring person. I'm not even a CEO or anything, and my computer has some pretty sensitive data that may or may not be a boon to an insider trading. A down-on-his luck whiz programmer turned PC repair dude might be able to beat someone's product to market having seen the code. Let's not forget the seedier side of things, especially if you want to see your girlfriend/wife/daughter ever again... if you're paying for a technician to repair your PC, they've got a pretty good idea how much money you've got, and there's probably some file on there thats got the address that goes with your wallpaper photo.

Re:I've said it before... (2, Insightful)

Domo-Sun (585730) | about 9 years ago | (#13341394)

If you havn't got anything to hide then you don't have anything to worry about

The whole "We have nothing to fear" argument is dumb. We always have something to fear.

Analogy (0, Flamebait)

ChadAmberg (460099) | about 9 years ago | (#13341225)

OK, read the story again, only replace "computer" with "car" and "possibly illegal files" with "body in the trunk".

What happens when the car gets dropped off for an oil change? If the mechanic sees blood dripping out from under the car, would he be allowed to call the cops?

Re:Analogy (2, Insightful)

Tackhead (54550) | about 9 years ago | (#13341311)

> OK, read the story again, only replace "computer" with "car" and "possibly illegal files" with "body in the trunk".
>
> What happens when the car gets dropped off for an oil change? If the mechanic sees blood dripping out from under the car, would he be allowed to call the cops?

Nail. Head. Hit.

Your mechanic is under no obligation to call the cops. He's also under no obligation not to call the cops.

If I hand off a hard drive full of goat pr0n to a techie, I should expect, at a minimum to get some weird stares when I get the hard drive back.

This isn't a case of "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". This is a case of a someone being "too dumb to fear, too dumb to bother hiding", and the gene pool is improved by it.

Re:Analogy (1)

OhHellWithIt (756826) | about 9 years ago | (#13341319)

That's pretty much what I did, except I substituted a bag of weed under the driver's seat for the body in the trunk. If I'm stupid enough to take my car in for service without ensuring I removed the evidence from crimes committed, and another citizen happens to see it & call the cops, I deserve to be thrown in jail.

This is not to say I think the gov't has any right to engage contractors to go around looking into my car (computer) to see if there's anything illegal there.

I'll give the EFF half a loaf for this one, but they're half out to lunch on the other half.

Re:Analogy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341350)

Not all that great of analogy. Unless the person who dropped off the computer had a folder on the desktop entitled "1lleg4l f1l4s h3r3" Then perhaps it would work. A better analogy would be replacing computer with car, and "possibly illegal files" with "a bag of white powder inside a purse which you left in the car" Now it becomes much different. Did the mechanic have a right to see what was in the purse in the car? I'd say no, even though it was illegal. So unless coming across these files was required to fix the computer he shouldn't be snooping around.

Re:Analogy (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 years ago | (#13341357)

A better question would be if the mechanic doesn't see blood dripping out from under the car, would he be allowed to open the trunk?

Question of Honor? (1)

Transcendor (907201) | about 9 years ago | (#13341227)

I know honor is a bit a wrong argument to use when it comes to wars concerning the relation between personal rights and public interests.
But - I repair a lot of computers in my spare time (as well as at school - I need to them to work) and I have always handled the data of my "clients" as sensitive as possible. I wouldn't even throw away a failing hard drive without destroying as much data as possible and then gathering repair/tinker parts from the drive, destroying all data on the disc's surface using a strong electromagnet.
So if a service wasn't trustworthy, it might as well give up, since well-informed costumers tend to be VERY picky about that topic. A law, forcing technicians to inform executive institutions when they find "suspicious" content on the drive, would make many people stop using repair services.
That would lead to higher sales of computer manufactures (as well as to the bankrupt of a industry of small enterprises). Is this a law that was pushed by some PC-Lobby?
--- be critical. Just don't bite the bait. get bitten [linklike.de.vu]

The last thing I want... (5, Insightful)

Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) | about 9 years ago | (#13341242)

is some tech seeing pictures of my baby daughter in the bathtub and then calling the cops because of my "kiddie porn." Then having to spend the thousands of $$$ on an attourney to get myself out of custody and to prove my innocence. Because when it comes to: terrorism, drugs, taxes, and kiddie porn, you are guilty until proven innocent, maybe not legally, but that's how the system works around these crimes.

get 2 harddrives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341245)

a small one for windows/linux and applications
a big one with your files

don't bring the big HD to the repairman

I disagree with this (1)

pHatidic (163975) | about 9 years ago | (#13341248)

Obviously the police should need a warrant in order to search information on your computer. However, I don't think there needs to be any laws preventing computer technicians from informing the government of illegal files. How is this any different from any person reporting anything else they see to the government? Only have your computer fixed by a company with a legally binding privacy policy or else encrypt your files, I really don't see what the big deal is.

Well where do you draw the line? (4, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 9 years ago | (#13341410)

Is it ok for the tech to report files that are on your desktop in a folder call "Illegal stuff in here"? Ok, how about if the files are hidden in a folder, in an area that in no way relates to the service they are doing? How about if they are in an encrypted volume, the password which he gets by cracking it stored by another program withweak, reversable encryption?

Etc.

The fact of the matter is, people doing service work should be going through your shit. When I hire someone to perform matenence on my house, I am not giving them permission to come in my bedroom and start going through my personal belongings. They are allowed in my house only to fix whatever it is that is broken.

That's the problem is that it seems that the techs finding this is evidence that they were poking around and looking for stuff, which they shouldn't be doing. There is nothing ending in .jpg that has any relivance to fixing a broken system.

A real worry is that if this is decided to be ok, the police will start putting pressure on techs to go through people's files looking for things they might want to know about. They get a quiet little agreement going with Best Buy and CompUSA that if a computer is brought in for service they'll scan the drives for child porn, warez, any documents that might indicate disagreement with the government, etc.

People tend to get all knee-jerk because the test case is a child porn case and there's a real "kill them all" mentality but you have to think in more general terms. Any time you hear "Don't worry, we won't abuse this law" you know you are being told a lie. The DMCA is a wonderful example. We were told it wouldn't ever be used to suppress academic research and it already has been.

So sure, maybe you think it's great that every computer that comes in for service should be scanned for child porn but then where does it end? I mean with all the terrorist paranoia these days I'm sure they'd want to scan it for "subversive literature" as well. The media insudtry would be right on board wanting scans for MP3s and MPEGs, and probably just assume they were illegal rips and make you prove your innocence.

It is a path we do not want to walk down.

EFF defends right to keep child porn private (3, Interesting)

waynegoode (758645) | about 9 years ago | (#13341251)

The article left out a very important fact. From the brief:

While the computer was being serviced, the service technician viewed some of the files on the computer and discovered that some of the files contained child pornography.

EFF appears to be ashamed of this "detail" because they left it out of the report on their website.

How do you balance the right of someone to have his child pornography kept private against the right of children not to be victimized by child pornography? What would your opinion be if it was pictures of your child or if you lived near the defendant?

Re:EFF defends right to keep child porn private (5, Insightful)

utopianfiat (774016) | about 9 years ago | (#13341327)

Where did he find the child pornography? In a spam email sent to the defendant that was sitting in his trashcan? In his temporary files directory? In his kazaa shared folder which he doesn't even know he has because his 17-year-old son is a porno addict? In his pictures directory containing pictures of his daughter in the bathtub?
There are so many scenarios to consider here that you can't just cry "pedophile" when you find something like that on someone's hard drive. I mean, I hate letting pedos walk free just as much as every other concerned citizen, but not at the expense of my privacy, and possibly my clean legal status if we're going to witch hunt about it.
It's no secret that even an accusation of a sexual crime can possibly ruin someone for life, and it's definitely not to be taken lightly. This is where we need to strictly interpret one's right to privacy and use common sense before "exposing pedophiles".

Re:EFF defends right to keep child porn private (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341368)

Well, consider this scenario: A plumber goes to someones house to repair their kitchen sink while the owner is away, and happens to find some child pornography in the owners bedroom. Does that mean we should let plumbers search the house of everyone who has a leaky sink from now on? If you don't defend someones right to privacy, even if you find something sometimes, you might as well give up on defending it at all. The fact that this technician found something illegal is irrelevant, the point is that this implies he was probably searching through the images, and who knows what else, on all the computers he serviced.

Re:EFF defends right to keep child porn private (1)

Cerv (711134) | about 9 years ago | (#13341373)

It doesn't matter whether they were child porn, beastiality porn or plans to bomb the Whitehouse. The EFF article states that the techie believe that the files may have been illegal and that's what matters.
Besides, the point is that the police didn't get a warrant before searching the PC. If they had wanted to search his house they would have required a warrant and the principle is the same.

Re:EFF defends right to keep child porn private (1)

finkployd (12902) | about 9 years ago | (#13341389)

So I'm confused about your position. There is no way to know if child porn is present unless they poke around where they shouldn't (ie. searching). So you are for warrantless searching on the off chance child porn is present? Does this extend to the home as well or just computers?

Finkployd

Just a pet peave (1)

spun (1352) | about 9 years ago | (#13341392)

Why do people always use the "What if it was your whatever?" argument. It's as if they think we are all incapable of empathy until reminded.

"Whoah! You know, I never thought about it that way! I was perfectly okay with child porn until I thought , 'hey what if it was MY child?'"

Anyways, I agree with you about this. Technicians shouldn't be required by law to cover up for people DUMB ENOUGH to leave files on their computer when it's being repaired. I have been a tech working both corporate support and customer repairs. Never found anything weird on customer computers, but I did find some very distrubing pictures of actual violent gang rape scenes on a company laptop brought in for repair. Needless to say, the boss was notified.

Re:EFF defends right to keep child porn private (1)

suprcvic (684521) | about 9 years ago | (#13341393)

I believe that in most districts it is a crime merely to possess child pornography so, while I see where you're going with this, it's kind of a moot point.

Re:EFF defends right to keep child porn private (2, Informative)

RockClimbingFool (692426) | about 9 years ago | (#13341422)

What people are charged with doesn't matter. Groups like the EFF, and the ACLU especially, catch alot of grief for the people they defend.

You need to realize they are not fighting for the defendents in these cases. They are fighting to ensure due process is followed IN ALL CASES.

If you can't follow the rules when it comes to prosecuting people who are truly guilty of crimes, how much are the authorities willing to bend the rules when the case isn't so cut and dry.

Get over it. (3, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | about 9 years ago | (#13341263)

Whatever your "expectation" may be, you have a right to jack shit. That's just life these days. Any pretense of privacy, presumption of innocence, independence and so forth is misplaced outside of a historical context.

All of these people jumping on the bandwagon are a little late. Whitebreads who are suddenly shocked into the situation because their precious little princess can't get on the airplane because the two year old is on a terror no-fly list or perverts who are shocked when someone turns them in for something on their computer or soccer moms who are upset when the cable guy reports to the TIA that there is "something weird about that person" are like firemen showing up to a pile of smoldering ashes.

Face it - people see the EFF, ACLU, NCAA and other organizations that have anything to do with free speech, privacy or freedom as "communist hippies" at best and "terrorists/sympathizers" at worst. Am I the only one who hasn't missed all the polls and commentaries from joe-random on the street who clearly states that the necessary cost of safety is freedom and that we have to be willing to give some of our freedom up in the modern world of "terror"?

We already lost. Your rights couldn't be any more flatlined.

We still have a chance... (1)

2$ Crack Whore (813937) | about 9 years ago | (#13341345)

Have you joined the EFF? I have. And now I am considering ways to let those that haven't joined, or that aren't even aware of issues such as these, to become informed. My frustration is that it seems 99% of the general public is content wallow in ignorance. Not by choice, but simply by virtue of the fact that they don't read sites like /., or EFF, or attend conferences, or try to do anything that is "non-standard" with digital devices or content. They just have no interest, and so they don't realize that eventually this spills over into everyday life.

The reaction to my telling friends and associates about these things is that they look at me like I'm a nutcase (yeah ok sometimes I *am* a nutcase :p). I wish I could transform that reaction into interest.

Re:We still have a chance... (1)

utopianfiat (774016) | about 9 years ago | (#13341409)

Then again, the parent might have a point, without actually stating it.

Without a privacy policy, your technician is under no obligation to either report or withhold the contents of your hard drive.

reasonable vs legal (1)

spooky_nerd (646914) | about 9 years ago | (#13341266)


I think most people would agree that we have a reasonable expectation of privacy when a system is brought to a technician for repair. That does not mean that the technician is legally required to respect that. In fact, the technician may be legally required to report certain things, like kiddie-porn.

Obviously a technician should not browse around your computer, and a good tech won't do that. But at the same time, it's not a good idea to leave files around that could get you in trouble.

Look, let's take a real-world analogy for a second. When the cable guy comes over, I don't expect him to poke around in my dresser. But at the same time, I don't leave a bong out on the coffee table either.

Re:reasonable vs legal (1)

Trigun (685027) | about 9 years ago | (#13341415)

Dude, that's how I got free cable!

EFF makes me happy. (1)

E14577441 (908346) | about 9 years ago | (#13341280)

The EFF is a light in a dark wilderness. How amazing that a group of people so talented, experienced, and dedicated to digital liberty can come together and accomplish so much. Episode #74 [thislife.org] of This American Life [thislife.org] features EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow [eff.org] 's touching account of a romance that blossomed between him and a wonderful woman he met at a convention. (Computer geeks take heed... play this story for a girl you fancy and see if it softens her heart.)

Hmmmm... (3, Insightful)

Bimo_Dude (178966) | about 9 years ago | (#13341289)

This is probably going to be a close call. If a cop pulls you over for speeding and sees your stash in the back seat, then he has every right to search the rest of your vehicle and arrest you (according to the law, anyway).

However, the person who found these purportedly objectionable files was NOT a cop. It was not his responsibility to call the police, nor was it Gateway's. Also, the fact that the police officers searched his entire hard disk based on heresay likely will be a big issue too. The files in question were clearly not in plain view of the police, and likely not even in the plain view of the technician (although that's moot anyway). I wonder if the technician was just looking for some good pr0n or maybe warez that he could copy.

This is yet another reason why I prefer to build and support my own systems... fewer prying eyes.

eff computer privacy case (2, Informative)

r1_97 (462992) | about 9 years ago | (#13341292)

"This ruling could threaten to 'turn your friendly neighborhood computer repair technician into a government informer' "

Back in the days when photographs had to be sent to a shop for developing and printing there was a push to require the shops to report illegal photos (porn, evidence of a crime etc.) The administration of these laws boggs down because everyone has a different opinion as to what to report.

Fight for it... (2, Insightful)

ajiva (156759) | about 9 years ago | (#13341299)

The only way to stop this decrease in privacy is to fight for it. If we ignore this, there will be even more issues and privacy violations.

They look at EVERYTHING! (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13341300)

My friend runs a computer service company and they always look in temp internet and my pictures. You'd be surprised how often naked pictures of the clients show up. Also ran into some disgusting child porn once. They hemmed and hawwed, but did call the cops, same way they call the cops when someone tries to dump a cheap laptop or someone comes in with what looks like stolen gear. Works both ways. I think he already states that you should assume EVERYTHING on your machine may be viewed as part of repairing/migrating/backing up a computer. We would never dime out a doper or naked adults, but you can bet child porn is getting reported, privacy policy or not.

Informing vs. Investigating (2, Insightful)

Prospero's Grue (876407) | about 9 years ago | (#13341310)

I think this is one of those subtle cases that baffles.

In handing the computer over to the technician, the owner left himself open to the fact that the technician was likely to examine the contents, and he might be expected to inform the police on finding illegal material. There's no confidentiality expectation.

The police then had a right to investigate, but should have obtained a warrant to examine the computer. It does not cease being private property because it's in the care of a 3rd party.

By the same token, if I drop off my car for maintenance, and the mechanic thinks he found drugs - the police need a warrant to search my car. If I leave my house while an exterminator fumigigates, and the exterminator finds a cache of illegal weapons - the police need a warrant to search my house.

The general notion of privacy, and the legal notion are actually different. The guy was boneheaded to leave the stuff where someone else could find it; but the police can't just go in and start peeking.

As for technicians being informers - there's nothing to prevent that either way.

Next Stop Encrypted Files (1)

gcatullus (810326) | about 9 years ago | (#13341341)

While no one will argue that if something is in plain sight the law shouldn't be able to react, this case is scary because it appears the suspicious files were NOT in plain sight. Still if you want privacy, encrypt things. The slippery slope that allows a technician to snoop on a pc, will eventually lead to criminalizing personal encryption tools.

OK my turn. (2, Insightful)

MrCopilot (871878) | about 9 years ago | (#13341354)

I spent some time as a PC tech, both corp and retail.

The EFF argues the police need a warrant. This repair tech gave them all they need for a warrant. Did they get one? No. Throw it out. Doesn't matter what the files were. (PATRIOT not withstanding). Due process is the LAW. (IANAL) But the trial judges threw it out & that's good enough for me. Sloppy police work sends crimnals home everyday, this is just another one.

As for expectaion of privacy, hmm. If I give you a folder full of sensitive documents and ask you to rearrange them alphabetically, my expectation goes out the window doesn't it.

Now, do they have reasonable cause to get his ISP records, I dunno, forbidden fruit & all.

Technician Did The Right Thing, Police Erred. (4, Insightful)

EzInKy (115248) | about 9 years ago | (#13341369)


When Westbrook dropped off his personal computer at a Gateway Computer store for servicing, a technician saw private files on the computer that he thought might be illegal. Gateway called the police, who searched through personal files on Westbrook's hard drive looking for more evidence -- before ever getting a warrant. The trial court found, and EFF argues in its brief to the appeals court, that this violated Westbrook's Fourth Amendment rights.


If I drop off my car and hand the keys to a mechanic I've basically surrendered my right to privacy concerning anything he finds in the car while going about the repairs so if he finds anything illegal it is perfectly right for him to report it to the police if he feels that is his duty. The same applies to the technician.

The police, on the other hand, were obviously wrong in not obtaining a warrent to search the drive.

Not This Tech Support Guy! (1)

Master of Transhuman (597628) | about 9 years ago | (#13341371)


You could have files on your system showing you to be the first direct lieutenant under Osama bin Laden, and files showing his exact location, and I wouldn't turn you in.

Well, unless I remembered the $25 million reward...

But, then, I'd have to trust Dick Cheney to pay me.

What are the odds?

I might turn your ass in if you're a serial killer, but that's about it. Kiddie porn? Nope, not my problem. Drugs? Gimme a break. Did you break in and steal my stuff? I'll hose you myself, not turn you in. Are you robbing others? I'm not a cop and I don't help cops.

Tech support people who report to the cops are fucking rats, nothing more. And if you're a rat, don't ever end up in the joint where people know - you won't have a good time. (Of course, about ninety percent of the people in the joint are rats, but that's another story.)

Not really news (1)

Douglas Simmons (628988) | about 9 years ago | (#13341384)

If we're talking Supreme Court tweaking of the Constitution and precedents, there is a very low legal threshold of what cops can get away with insofar as using informants with any quid pro quo to procure information that would otherwise be priviledged. However, a photo developer who discovers a customer's roll of kiddy porn or some busybody soccer mom reporting my solicitation of prostitutes is free to tell the cops whatever they want, voila, cops have probable cause.

Otoh, according to Law and Order and HBO's The Wire, cops seem to get away with paying criminal informants cash money for in addition to lighter sentences for leads that may lead to discovery of "fruits" of evidence, all of which cannot be admitted into court, so who knows. So this is the same deal, same kind of freedom/privacy issue (btw the 4th does not offer "privacy" protection), just with geeks and computers. Again, on the other hand, maybe I'm missing something from not having read tfa.

touch but don't look (1)

moviepig.com (745183) | about 9 years ago | (#13341391)

Will a service technician now feel like an Islamic physician who must treat his female patient but mustn't look at her? And will courtroom witnesses soon be citing 'geek-consumer privilege'?

One hour photo labs have dealt with this already. (1)

bigtallmofo (695287) | about 9 years ago | (#13341397)

As of a few years, many one-hour photo labs have had a clear policy to report potentially illegal things they see develop on film dropped off.

Photo labs develop porn-reporting policies [ljworld.com]

In plain sight (1)

Specks (798579) | about 9 years ago | (#13341413)

Law enforcement has a rule. If its in plain sight its fair game. If a technician saw the files and the files were in a folder that wasn't encrypted or locked from him and it was brought to the attention of the law and it wasn't a police officer who went in and found it then it might be considered that the evidence was "in plain sight".
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