Tuesday, April 6, 2010
This Article contends that ex ante restrictions on the execution of computer warrants are constitutionally unauthorized and unwise. The Fourth Amendment does not permit judges to impose limits on the execution of warrants in the name of reasonableness. When such limits are imposed, they have no legal effect. The imposition of ex ante limits on computer warrants is also harmful: Ex ante assessments of reasonableness in ex parte proceedings are highly error-prone, and they end up prohibiting reasonable practices when paired with ex post review. Although ex ante restrictions may seem necessary in light of the present uncertainty of computer search and seizure law, such restrictions end up having the opposite effect. By transforming litigation of the lawfulness of a warrant’s execution into litigation focusing on compliance with restrictions rather than reasonableness, ex ante restrictions prevent the development of reasonableness standards to be imposed ex post that are needed to regulate the new computer search process. Magistrate judges should refuse to impose such restrictions and should let the law develop via judicial review ex post.