January 17, 2007
Has the Baseball Doping Probe Hit a Fourth Amendment Foul?
The 18th-century amendment is being put to a 21st-century test centering around the Major League Baseball doping probe. Major League Baseball has found itself embroiled in a federal investigation into whether some of its biggest stars, like Barry Bonds, used performance-enhancing drugs. But civil-liberties advocates worry that a recent legal ruling in the case will reach far beyond the diamond and give the government broad search-and-seizure powers in the digital age. At the heart of the case is how much freedom the government has to pursue crimes discovered in electronic files while searching for evidence against other people and how much protection the 4th Amendment affords information in a computer database about people other than those targeted by investigators.
In late December '06, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the government's power to seize computer files from two laboratories that performed mandatory drug tests on major leaguers, including files of professional hockey players and other nonsports patients tested by the labs. George Washington CrimProf Orin Kerr commented, "The Supreme Court has never applied the Fourth Amendment to computers. The federal courts of appeals are beginning to decide a bunch of cases: in 2006, there were 20 or 30 in the broad area of how the Fourth Amendment applies to computers. But each case is very fact-specific and narrow, so the law remains pretty murky." Story from the Wall Street Journal in post-gazette.com. . . [Michele Berry]
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