Federal Court Finds No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Computer Files Shared on a Public Network
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On August 1, 2013, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota denied a criminal defendant’s motion to suppress, holding that the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in computer files he shared on a peer-to-peer network.

In U.S. v. Hoffman, police used a software program to monitor multiple peer-to-peer networks for IP addresses that investigators had previously identified as possibly associated with child pornography. The police discovered one such IP address, connected through a peer-to-peer network to a computer associated with that IP address, and downloaded several files directly from the computer. After confirming that some of the files contained child pornography, an administrative subpoena allowed police to link the IP address to the defendant. The government then obtained and executed a search warrant for the defendant’s residence. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence discovered during the search of his residence, arguing that the government directly connecting to his computer and downloading files without a warrant constituted an illegal search and seizure.

In denying the defendant’s motion to suppress, the court held that the search was not illegal because the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in computer files that he made publicly accessible. The court stated that (1) suppression would require the defendant to show he had a “legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched,” and (2) whether the defendant personally installed the file sharing program was irrelevant since he was the main user of the computer and was aware that he had shared the files.


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